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Farmers may lose out with end of ESA.

Byline: DAVID MORLEY

THE Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme (ESA) was introduced in 1987. Offering incentives to farmers, it was intended to make farmers adopt practices that would safeguard countryside with high landscape value, significant wildlife or areas of historic interest.

Now the ESA is coming to an end, and the new scheme - Environmental Stewardship - is more selective in its approach to farmers.

As the old scheme expires, concerns are being raised across the country, as numbers of former beneficiaries face the prospect of losing out. Already, Natural England has selected who it considers worthy of support - and only 40% of the farms which previously benefited have been invited to join the new Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme.

The remainder have not been left entirely in the cold. They may apply for Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (UELS), if the land management required fits their farm business model - but they must apply between October 1 this year and January 31, 2013, for a start in May next year.

Farmers with the old agreement, which lasted for 10 years, received an annual payment for every hectare of land entered into the scheme. The new scheme may bring reductions in income and make different demands on applicants, adding to the uncertainties experienced.

The farms that Natural England would like to see in HLS have already been contacted and Farm Environment Plans have been commissioned. The remainder should apply for Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (UELS). To get one of these agreements starting May 2013, applications should ideally be made before January 31 next year.

UELS pays pounds 62 per hectare - but this will replace both the ESA and Uplands Transitional Payment - formerly the Hill Farm Allowance - so in many cases farm income will be significantly reduced.

During the summer, Natural England will be running four presentations specifically for farmers who are coming out of ESA.

We would still recommend that farmers get independent advice on making their UELS application to ensure it fits with their existing farming practices. The actions farmers are being encouraged to adopt can be more demanding. It''s a very important time to find out how your farm fits into the new face of environmental support.

For farms where the existing ESA expires in 2014 the situation is much less clear. The current Rural Development programme only runs until 2013 and no announcements have yet been made about what will happen to after that.

David Morley, environmental advisor of H&H Land and Property, chartered surveyors and land agents in Carlisle and Durham.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Aug 4, 2012
Words:421
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