Defra has announced the achievement of two major milestones in the Departments' Environmental Stewardship scheme, with the news that farmers are to begin receiving payments.
Entry Level Stewardship payments are now underway on the earliest agreements, and will total nearly £47 million over the first year, with over £8m being paid to farmers within the next week.
The Government's Sustainable Farming Minister, Lord Bach, said; "I am delighted that the first Entry Level Stewardship payments are now being made to those land managers who entered into agreements at the very first opportunity in August 2005".
Adding; "These agreement holders are now receiving a proper financial reward for delivering effective environmental management on their land. The Entry Level strand of Environmental Stewardship is building strongly and we already have over a million and a half hectares of land under five year agreements".
Lord Bach welcomed the move, saying; "These agreements can now begin to deliver significant and targeted environmental benefits, addressing some of our top priorities across England"
Operating under Defra's Rural development Scheme, Environmental Stewardship was launched in March 2005 and is composed of three tiers:
- Entry Level Stewardship (ELS), a whole farm scheme which aims to encourage farmers and land managers across England to deliver simple but effective environmental management
- Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) which is open to farmers who manage all or part of their land organically
- Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) which, when combined with ELS or OELS options, aims to deliver significant environmental benefits in high priority areas.
The scheme aims to build on the best practices in British farming, such as countryside stewardship, effective land management and environmental care.
In all, some 13,000 farmers land managers have entered into stewardship agreements covering over 1.5 million hectares of land since August 2005.
The primary objectives of the new scheme are to:
- Conserve wildlife
- Maintain and enhance landscape quality and character
- Protect the historic environment and natural resources
- Promote public access and understanding of the countryside
- Natural resource protection.
Defra is now keen to extend Environmental Stewardship schemes and has set itself the ambitious target of having 60% of farmed land in England under Entry Level Stewardship agreement by the end of 2007. Ministers see these first payments as a real incentive for more farmers to follow those already signed up.
Lord Bach commented; "Hopefully, the fact that our first agreement holders are now receiving payments will act as an incentive for other farmers, particularly the many thousands who have received application packs but have not yet applied, to join up and help us achieve this target. Everyone who does join is adding to the positive impact this scheme is making in protecting our countryside".