MORE than 6,000 farmers in England have signed up for the Government's new Environmental Stewardship scheme, taking land to be farmed with the interests of wildlife in mind past the one million hectare mark - almost 2,500,000 acres.
This is the equivalent in area to Lancashire, Norfolk and Surrey combined - but more Government effort is needed to persuade farmers to enter into the more complex management levels available, says the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The stewardship schemes, part of the reforms of the notorious Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have two tiers, entry levels and advanced. RSPB scientists, who monitor environmental changes and how they affect bird life, yesterday welcomed the fact that 6,000 farms have joined the entry-level tier.
But the society is calling on Defra to make "one more big push" to get more farmers to sign up for the advanced tiers, which include the creation of haymeadows and upland heaths, which would be particularly beneficial to some of the country's most threatened birds like corn bunting, snipe, black grouse and chough.
The Government's push towards "greener" farming is the most controversial change in farming policy for 50 years and is causing much uncertainty in some areas. But scientists agree that a thriving wild bird population with a wide range of species is an important indicator of a healthy countryside.