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Stackyard News Mar 05

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Environmental Stewardship Launched In North East: Green Farming For All

Management and protection of some of the North East's most characteristic landscape, wildlife and historic features are options now available to all farmers and land managers under a new scheme launched yesterday by the Government.

Features which will benefit from the new Environmental Stewardship scheme will include some of the North East's most valuable habitats such as upland moorland, coasts and rivers.

These habitats support species such as farmland birds like lapwing, skylark, tree sparrow and corn bunting as well as black grouse, red squirrel and water voles which will also benefit from the new scheme.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett, launching the scheme said, together with the payment system under the Common Agricultural Policy, it will represent the biggest change to farming for a generation. Mrs Beckett said:

"This is a real red-letter day for English farming. Every farmer can now be rewarded for protecting and enhancing the environment. With the wider CAP reforms, we are making good progress towards ensuring farming is truly sustainable.

"The more farmers that become involved, the greater the benefit to the environment. Reversing the long term decline in farmland birds, for example, requires action to improve habitats over wide areas.

"Farmers will also be delighted to hear that the scheme has been designed so the application process is as straightforward as possible and those that wish to can apply over the internet" she added.

The scheme will be delivered by the Rural Development Service (RDS) working with Defra's partner organisations and agencies.

In the North East, the RDS will mark the launch by an event tomorrow (Friday 4 March) at Newcastle Falcons RUFC attended by Sir Don Curry, chairman of the Government's Sustainable Farming and Food Implementation Group, and by the regional representatives of Defra's partner organisations and agencies. Media are invited to attend at 10.30am.

Entry Level Stewardship will enable farmers to earn up to £30 a hectare for delivering straightforward, yet effective, work such as maintaining hedgerows, leaving conservation strips around fields and creating beetle banks.

The other two elements of Environmental Stewardship take things a step further by featuring organic and 'higher level' components.

Organic Entry Level Stewardship offers organic management options for land which is registered as fully organic or in conversion to organic farming with the Organic Inspection Body approved by Defra. It provides payments of up to £60 per hectare annually for land entered into the Scheme.

Higher Level Stewardship has been designed to target local environmental priorities and will build on Entry Level or Organic Entry Level Stewardship. It offers a wide range of land management options linked to specific environmental features.

Through these three elements, Environmental Stewardship will continue to develop the work carried out under Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Area Schemes and Organic Farming Schemes.

Its objectives include the conservation of wildlife, enhancement of landscape character, protection of the historic environment and natural resources and promotion of public access to, and understanding of, the countryside.

Environmental Stewardship is expected to require the current budget of £150m a year for environmental land management to be more than doubled within the next few years.

Fiona Gough, Regional Manager for the Rural Development Service in the North East said:

"RDS is delighted to be launching Environmental Stewardship, which will provide new opportunities for a wide range of farmers and land managers to receive payments to look after the North East countryside.

"With the aid of this new scheme we are aiming to achieve key targets in the areas of conservation of wildlife habitats, preservation of historic features, enhancement of landscapes in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty and the creation of new access opportunities for the public."

Sir Don Curry, a Northumberland farmer and chairman of the Government's Sustainable Farming and Food Implementation Group, said:

"This launch is a milestone in delivering one of the key recommendations of the Policy Commission report. It represents a fundamental step in farmers committing themselves to sound environmental management. It is essential that as many farmers as possible participate in the schemes, not only to demonstrate we have accepted our responsibilities but to make the most of this additional stream of income, which is available for every farm business."

Huw Davies, director of the Countryside Agency in the North East, said:

"The Countryside Agency encourages farmers to join Environmental Stewardship. It is also important to ensure the general public makes use of new access routes created by the scheme in the North East and get out into the countryside to see the benefits for themselves.

"We are pleased to work with Defra and a wide range of stakeholders to develop the new scheme. In particular, it is positive to see our concerns reflected in the make up of the scheme and we particularly welcome its promotion of public access to the North East countryside, and the strong emphasis on maintaining and enhancing the character of our much-loved landscape.

"Environmental Stewardship builds on the legacy of previous agri-environment schemes, in that it will enable more land managers to claim financial rewards for providing benefits for the countryside and the general public."

Welcoming the launch of the scheme, RSPB Regional Director, Andy Bunten, said:

"It is great news that the people who are at the forefront of farmland conservation - the farmers - can now all be rewarded for undertaking conservation management work.

"The Entry Level Scheme recognises that farmers have a vital role to play in safeguarding wildlife for everyone to enjoy, and that they need public support to carry out this important job. This scheme offers a great way for large numbers of farmers in northern England to help the fortunes of birds such as lapwing, skylark and corn bunting.

"The loss of wildlife from our countryside over the past 30 years means that the song of the skylark, the call of the corn bunting and the sight of farmland flowers are sadly just a distant memory for far too many people. This new scheme is a great opportunity to reverse the dramatic declines in the numbers of farmland birds across the country. We hope that many North East farmers will join this scheme and take this exciting new opportunity to protect our region's special landscape and its precious wildlife."

Tony Laws, English Nature's Area Manager said, "Environmental Stewardship is good news all round for farming and wildlife. For the first time, every farmer in England will be eligible to earn payments for undertaking environmental management of their land. This will pay great dividends for the region from maintaining healthy, wildlife-rich hedges to helping our heather moorlands flourish as well as reversing the decline of threatened species like bats, otters and water voles.

"English Nature will be working closely with the RDS, farmers and other partners to maximise the benefits of this exciting new scheme."

Two North East men who are familiar with Environmental Stewardship and backing the new scheme are Simon Henderson, who has a farm in North Northumberland, and William Salvin, a Land Agent in Teesdale.

Simon Henderson and his wife Helen are dedicated conservationists and believe in working with nature to enhance and improve their land at West Fenton Farm. They have already carried out many environmental improvements at the farm, where they have three Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements covering the land. Last year the couple opened a new, hi-tech, environmental education centre after transforming a redundant farm building with the help of Defra's Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES). The centre offers a place for other farmers, as well as the general public, to learn about agri-environment work being carried out on the farm.

Mr Henderson said:

"The new ES scheme has something to offer all farmers. The Entry Level Scheme will make it easier for those, who may not have entered into stewardship in the past, to join now. It is a straightforward scheme and offers support for good agricultural practices. The simplified procedure will make it easier and cheaper to complete applications allowing more farmers than ever before to get a foot on the stewardship ladder.

"The higher-level scheme will offer those farmers with valuable or rare features on their holding the opportunity to conserve and enhance these with a wide range of support measures many of which were not available under the previous stewardship scheme.

"I look forward to participating in these schemes and adopting them as part of my farm's response to the challenges posed by the new Single Farm Payment regime."

William Salvin is a practising Land Agent in Barnard Castle with responsibility for the management of four traditional rural estates in Co Durham and North Yorkshire. One of them, the Mortham Estate at Greta Bridge in Teesdale comprises an area of parkland and thirteen let farms - nine of which are in the Entry Level Scheme (ELS) upland pilot area.

Three of the farmers have entered into Countryside Stewardship schemes, and eight of the farms within the ELS pilot area signed up to the scheme with the Estate applying for grants for the parkland, woods and other areas.

Mr Salvin said:

"Advantages to the farmers vary but in all cases ELS payments gave financial reward for the maintenance of a broad range of environmental features and management practises. The character of the parkland was for the first time acknowledged by a direct financial payment.

"ELS enhances good practise by incentivising desirable management practises and highlights those areas of interest and importance often nurtured by the farmer but taken for granted by the public at large. Conversely, the process identifies threatened and at-risk aspects and gives financial incentives to secure their future."

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