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    This Green And Pleasant Land of Agri-Environment Schemes
03/08/05

Farmers and landowners across the North East have been doing their bit to ensure England remains this green and pleasant land with the help of Defra's agri-environment schemes.

Since its launch in 1994, Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) agreements have been established across the region covering a massive 100,470 hectares of land - higher than any other region and the equivalent of more than 248,000 Middlesbrough FC football pitches.

In all 1,127 agreements have been signed by farmers and landowners across the North East including 680 in Northumberland, 341 in Durham and 106 in the old Cleveland county area.

Nationally there are 16,101 agreements covering a total of 530,620 hectares of land.

CSS is one of the schemes that operate under the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP) offering payments to farmers and land managers to improve the natural beauty and diversity of the countryside. CSS closed for new applications on 31 March 2004 and has been replaced by the Environmental Stewardship Scheme (ES).

As part of their agreements farmers and land managers pledge to preserve and enhance the environmental features, wildlife habitats and historical or archaeological sites on their land through a range of measures including the creation of grass margins and ponds or wetland areas, management of grazing, reversion of arable land to grassland and heath/moorland management.

Agreements may also include the restoration and preservation of dry stone walls and hedgerows and in the North East more than 2,400 km of hedgerow have been preserved or replaced as well as almost 430 km of dry stone walls.

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

"There has been a phenomenal change in attitude towards agri-environment schemes in recent years and after some initial scepticism it's now accepted as a way to achieve environmental benefits in farming.

"We're delighted so many farmers have entered into CSS agreements and it's a tremendous achievement that the North East, the smallest of the region's geographically has the largest area of land under agreement.

"We are now working hard to ensure more farmers can sign up to the benefits of agri-environment schemes through the new Environmental Stewardship (ES) Scheme and look forward to seeing more of the North East landscape being preserved and enhanced for generations to come."

Among the region's farmers who have signed up to CSS are John Wrangham, of Northumberland and Robert Atkinson, of County Durham.

The 8,500-acres Harehope Estate, north of Alnwick, Northumberland, is a traditional northern mixed farm, with sheep and cattle and a range of crops, which has been in Mr Wrangham's family for three generations.

Mr Wrangham, who signed up to CSS last year, said:

"We have quite an extensive agreement covering a whole range of options within CSS and are now working hard to get everything in place. We're reverting around 50-plus hectares of arable land back to grassland, have established six-metre grass margins around most of our arable fields and we're adopting a more sympathetic approach to heather moorland management.

"We've also planted wild bird seed mixes and are looking to preserve some of the archaeological features on the estate such as ancient crop markings and a pre-historic hill fort. There's also a small patch of woodland where we are planting more native junipers and we are also establishing new permissive access footpaths and bridleways, stretching for almost 6.5 km, to create a walk around the estate, along the river and to link in with paths on our neighbours' land.

"I believe it's important that we play our part in helping the wide range of wildlife in this part of the world and the financial support we receive through CSS enables us to carry out the work needed to preserve and enhance these important habitats."

Mr Atkinson and his wife Joan have been farming the 64-hectare arable farm at Causey Hall Farm, Causey, near Stanley, for more than 40 years. They signed up to CSS more than five years ago and for the first time this year they have spotted several pairs of lapwings nesting near a newly created two-level pond.

Mr Atkinson explained:

"As well as creating the new pond we have also established six-metre grass margins around the fields, established around four hectares of wild bird seed mix, planted 1,300m of new hedging as well as many new trees in our woodland areas.

"We have now around 18 pairs of lapwing nesting here, something we have never seen before. We have also spotted quite a few skylark and even oystercatcher.

"CSS is an important tool to help enhance the wildlife. It certainly seems to be working here and it's great to see all these 'new' species benefiting from the work we have carried out."

* The Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) is one of the schemes which operate under the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP). The CSS is now closed to new applicants. The Scheme offers payments to existing agreement holders (farmers and land managers) to improve the natural beauty and diversity of the countryside. The scheme operates throughout England outside Environmentally Sensitive Areas. Countryside Stewardship currently has over 16,000 agreement holders.

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DEFRA
Department for Environment
Food and Rural Affairs