IN WHAT are being described as "the biggest changes in farming for a generation," Defra will today (March 3) announce its plans for rewarding farmers for their environmental work under the new single farm payment scheme.
Called the Environmental Stewardship Scheme, it will fundamentally change the way that farm subsidises have been paid since World War 11. Until now, that has been based on the amount of food a farm produces - whether it be livestock, milk, cereals or vegetable crops.
This, say Defra, has led to over production and environmental damage caused by intensive farming techniques. Under the new rules, they should be able to return to more traditional methods and, hopefully, receive a similar income because of the boost in environmental grants.
Defra insiders say that all farmers will be able to earn grants for looking after hedgerows, providing habitats for birds and small mammals, creating wildflower plots for bees and other beneficial insects on set-aside arable land.
They will also gain by protecting ponds from pesticides and fertilisers to encourage wildlife such as frogs and newts and a wide range of other environmental measures. This will help to reduce the decline in wild bird populations, cut pollution and increase all forms of wildlife on farms.
Together with the Single Payment Scheme, the start of Environmental Stewardship "will mark a watershed in the way England is farmed," said one expert.