Real progress is now being made under the new Environmental Stewardship Scheme, Farming Minister Lord Bach said today. The first agreements started in August, and already over 6,000 farmers and other land managers have agreements in place, with over 700,000 hectares under Entry Level and Organic Entry Level Stewardship, of which 8,000 hectares are under the organic scheme. Applications have now topped one million hectares. First ELS payments, as has been previously announced, will be made in early February.
These strides have been made despite early difficulties with the supporting IT system and outstanding land registration issues. Both of these problems are being actively managed and the indications are, now the harvest period is over, the pace of applications will pick up further.
Entry Level and Organic Entry Level Stewardship are designed to be available to the majority of farmers across England. Progress towards introducing the more targeted Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements however has been slower, with the result that the first agreements will now come into force early in the New Year.
In recognition of this delay, we will be offering Agri-Environment customers whose existing agreements are coming to an end, an extension to their agreement subject to entry into an Environmental Stewardship agreement. In this way the 10-year public investment already made in these land areas will be protected, and payments to agreement holders will continue. We will also be making earlier than planned re-imbursement of the costs of producing a Farm Environment Plan - a requirement for HLS applications.
Sustainable Farming and Food Minister, Lord Bach, said: "I am pleased that after a bumpy start we are now able to see genuine progress with Environmental Stewardship. There is clear evidence now that the scheme is attractive to farmers and that the process works.
"While Higher Level agreements will take longer to establish than we had originally anticipated, every effort will be made in the coming months to maximise the contribution of current agri-environment agreements towards achieving the scheme objectives to conserve and enhance wildlife, landscape, the historic environment, public access to the countryside and resource protection."
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