17 December 2012
England's flagship agri-environment scheme - Higher Level Stewardship - has reached a major milestone this month with the start of the scheme’s 10,000th agreement, Natural England said today (Monday 17 December).
John Walker of Tedney Farm and his brother Thomas, who farm in partnership on land that straddles Herefordshire and Worcestershire, have become two of the most recent farmers to join Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), bringing the total number of active agreements to the 10,000th landmark. HLS agreements now cover a record total of more than 977,000 hectares of England and represent an annual investment of over £165m each year into the rural economy; helping farm businesses throughout England generate economic growth and support a healthy and wildlife-rich environment.
First launched in 2005, HLS is the top tier of England’s environmental stewardship schemes. Agreements last for ten years and payments vary according to the specific management undertaken. HLS is currently focused on 110 areas across England with the target areas selected as most likely to provide the greatest environmental benefits for wildlife, landscape, the historic environment and resource protection. Each HLS agreement is tailored to the individual farm, with a wide range of on-farm stewardship options available to land managers.
The most popular HLS land management options include practical work that benefits butterflies, bees, birds, wild flowers and other farmland biodiversity; safeguards traditional farmland features such as dry stone walls and hedgerows; protects traditional farm buildings and other heritage features from decay; creates new wildlife habitats; supports new woodland planting; and, provides access for educational groups.
John Walker is hoping that the new HLS agreement will make a real difference for wildlife on Tedney Farm. He said: “I hope that the wild bird seed mixes and unharvested headlands we’ve included in the new HLS agreement will increase numbers of birds like skylarks on the farm. I’m very proud of the amount of old hedges we have already re-laid and restored. It is wonderful to see the large flocks of migrant fieldfares and redwings feeding on the hedges in the winter.”
The new HLS agreement will also support priority habitats on the farm. The River Teme runs through the land and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of the variety of wildlife it supports; including salmon, native crayfish, lampreys, bullhead and pearl mussels. By turning some of the riverside fields (previously cultivated in rotation for arable crops and potatoes) over to grassland for cattle, John will be creating new wet grassland habitats on the farm that also suit the farm business.
John explains: “Having the fields in grass will help prevent soil and nutrients from running into the River Teme, which will help maintain a healthy river that is able to sustain good fish stocks, along with otters, dippers and kingfishers. There were always flocks of lapwings around when I was growing up too, and it would be great if returning some of the fields to river meadows encourages curlews and lapwings to return.”
Geoff Sansome, Natural England’s Director of Land Management South, said: “I’m pleased to welcome John and Thomas Walker’s land into the HLS scheme and would like to thank all 10,000 HLS customers for the incredibly varied and valuable work they carry out as part of their HLS farm plans. In reaching this milestone for the HLS scheme it’s clear that England’s land managers play a fundamental role in caring for the natural environment and we are delighted to support the work they do.”
Fittingly, the landmark achievement of 10,000 HLS agreements has been reached in the same year that has marked 25 years of agri-environment schemes.
David Heath MP, Farming Minister, said: “Over the last quarter of a century, Environmental Stewardship has made a real difference in helping farmers support the environment alongside the vital role they also play in running productive farm businesses. With two thirds of England’s farmland under Environmental Stewardship and 10,000 HLS agreements now in place, there can be no clearer demonstration of the commitment that farmers are making to help look after our countryside and wildlife”.
To help promote the work of farmers who participate in agri-environment schemes, Natural England has developed an on-line ‘casebook’ showing how farmers are using agri-environment schemes to help their businesses and support the natural environment. The new interactive map currently shows how 40 farms right across the English counties are producing food, providing valuable natural services and supporting the local economy through their involvement in Environmental Stewardship and Catchment Sensitive Farming.
Geoff Sansome added: “We want to showcase the excellent work that farmers involved in Environmental Stewardship are doing, and our online interactive map is a great way to highlight the numerous ways in which England’s farmers are managing their land to provide wildlife habitats, to keep our rivers clean and healthy and to look after our historic landscape and heritage.”
The online maps will provide a county-by-county breakdown of how land is being managed in England, with key statistics available for each county that include the proportion of land in agri-environment agreements and how much land is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). As the 10,000th HLS Agreement, John & Thomas Walkers’ farm will have a special place on the map along with around 40 other Environmental Stewardship case studies.
More than £406 million is paid to farmers and land managers annually through England’s agri-environment schemes, including HLS. Research carried out in 2009 suggests that this investment has knock on benefits in the wider rural community, sustaining up to 15,000 jobs and generating additional spending of as much as £850 million per year.
Natural England will work with farming and conservation partners over the coming months with a view to adding further case studies to the map. As the map develops and is added to, it is expected to become a valuable digital resource for farmers, agents and advisers wishing to source examples of good practice and evidence of just how much can be achieved with the help of agri-environment schemes.
About Environmental Stewardship
Environmental Stewardship Schemes are administered by Natural England, on behalf of Defra, and fund farmers and land managers throughout England to deliver effective environmental management on their land.
The objectives of Environmental Stewardship are to:
Promote public access and understanding of the countryside
Maintain and enhance landscape quality and character
Protect the historic environment and natural resources
For further information (media queries only) please contact:
Natural England press office: David on 0300 060 1720 / 0782 7821679 or Linzee on 0300 060 2058 / 0782 4334819
Follow us on Twitter: @NaturalEngland