Agri-environment minus the aggro?

UK - Applicants for environmental stewardship schemes will now know if their application is likely to be a success before they go through the full application process.
calendar icon 28 February 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
Natural England’s Chief Executive Helen Phillips has announced changes to streamline the application procedure for Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) at the NFU's annual conference in Birmingham.

From 1 April, to save prospective Higher Level Stewardship applicants wasting unnecessary time and money in conducting Farm Environment Plans (FEPs), there will be an initial consultation to find out whether an application has a strong chance of success.

With each FEP costing the Environmental Stewardship (ES) scheme £1,500 on average, the change ensures that the scheme’s funds are focused on delivering environmental benefits.

The NFU has welcomed the news but has some reservations at Natural England plans to 'raise the bar' on securing entry into the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme.

Speaking at the conference, Dr Phillips said: “Today’s announcement is part of Natural England’s drive to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy. Higher Level Stewardship is a highly competitive scheme and we don’t want to waste land managers' time and money on applications that have little chance of success.

“We also need to target more of the funding at those land managers who can best help meet the most pressing environmental challenges we face. In this context, I believe there is potential for Higher Level Stewardship to be an invitation only scheme – directed at those areas where there is the greatest need to support environmental benefits.“

Natural England has pledged to work with Defra and stakeholders to review the targeting approach for the Environmental Stewardship scheme.

:: Since its launch in August 2005, more than four million hectares – over 40% of all farmland in England – is now entered into the Environmental Stewardship scheme. Land managers have received more than £50 million as a result.

Environmental Stewardship builds on the very best practice already evident in British farming. The main objectives of the scheme are to:
  • Conserve wildlife (biodiversity).
  • Maintain and enhance landscape quality and character.
  • Protect the historic environment and natural resources.
  • Promote public access and understanding of the countryside.
  • Natural resource protection.
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