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Environmental Stewardship

Environmental Stewardship (ES) is an agri-environment scheme which offers payments to farmers and land managers in England for effective land management to protect and enhance the environment and wildlife. The scheme is delivered for Defra by Natural England and forms part of the Rural Development Programme for England (2007-2013). It builds on the successes of previous agri-environment schemes, the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and Environmentally Sensitive Areas.

The scheme’s primary objectives are to:

  • Conserve wildlife (biodiversity)
  • Maintain and enhance landscape quality and character
  • Protect the historic environment
  • Protect natural resources (water and soil)
  • Promote public access and understanding of the countryside

There are also secondary objectives for genetic conservation (rare breeds), flood risk management, and an overarching objective to contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Latest news

  • Defra announced on 16 November 2010 that it will be making changes to the way farmers are paid under Defra’s agri-environment schemes in the future, following an EU audit. Further information including a  Q&A and a letter to agreement holders is available on the Natural England website. A press release has been published.
  • Defra announced on 5 July 2010 it will be making changes to the way farmers are paid under Defra’s agri-environment schemes in the future. An information bulletin has been published.
  • A new strand of Entry Level Stewardship (ELS), Uplands ELS was launched in February 2010 with first agreements commencing from 1 July 2010.  Uplands ELS has an 80% coverage target of the Severely Disadvantaged Area by 2015.

Scheme elements

Environmental Stewardship comprises:

Entry Level Stewardship (ELS): Whole farm agreements are open to all farmers and land managers  who farm conventionally for simple yet environmentally effective land management with a choice of more than 60 management options. Payments of £30 per hectare per year (£8 per hectare for land parcels of more than 15 hectares above the Moorland Line).

Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS): Similar to ELS, but offering higher payments (£60 per hectare per year) for the greater environmental benefits associated with organic farming and the costs of meeting annual organic registration requirements . OELS is open to all farmers and land managers who farm organically, or are in the process of converting to organic farming.

Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (Uplands ELS):  A new uplands strand of ELS, launched in February 2010 with the first agreements starting from 1 July 2010, available to farmers in England’s Severely Disadvantaged Areas (SDA) . Uplands ELS replaces the Hill Farm Allowance (HFA), and targets funding towards the delivery of public benefits, rewarding farmers for the delivery of specific landscape and environmental benefits not rewarded by the market. Payments are higher than for ELS (£62 per hectare per year for SDA land  below the Moorland Line and SDA land parcels smaller than 15ha above the Moorland Line, £23 per ha for SDA parcels larger than 15ha above the Moorland Line and a supplementary payment of £5 per ha on common land with two or more active graziers).

An Uplands Transitional Payment is available to farmers who have successfully claimed HFA in 2010, but are unable to enter Uplands ELS due to continuing commitments in predecessor schemes to ensure that early adopters of agri-environment schemes are not disadvantaged. This is claimed on the SPS SP5 form. Further information can be found on the RPA website.

All Entry-Level Environmental Stewardship strands have five-year agreements.

Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) is an environmentally targeted, competitive scheme with 10-year tailored agreements of high environmental value involving complex and specialised land management. In addition to objectives for biodiversity, landscape, historic features and resource protection, HLS offers opportunities for access to the countryside and organised educational visits to farms for schools and special interest groups. HLS agreements are usually underpinned by ELS, OELS or Uplands ELS.

Key facts and figures

Nearly 6.5 million hectares (nearly 70% of England’s farmland) are in agri-environment schemes (43,000 Environmental Stewardship agreements covering 5.5 million hectares plus predecessor scheme agreements still in force covering  approximately 700,000 hectares)

Environmental Stewardship and the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE)

Environmental Stewardship is a key part of the industry-led voluntary initiative, the Campaign for the Farmed Environment with Entry Level Stewardship being one of the main ways to deliver the campaign’s objectives.

Further information

Detailed information about Environmental Stewardship and the application process is available from your Natural England regional office.

A series of plain English guides on Environmental Stewardship is also available from the Business Link website

Page last modified: 16 November 2010