Stewardship in the new year.
CHANGES to Environmental Stewardship schemes that farmers and landowners need to know about are coming into force from January 1 . The changes will affect both the Entry Level Scheme (ELS) and the Higher Level Scheme (HLS).
Five new options are being introduced as part of the Making Environmental Stewardship More Effective initiative.
These include hedgerow restoration (previously only available as part of UELS) and options to create herb-rich swards and add wild flowers to buffer strips and field corners. Another new option for arable and mixed farms aims to provide year-round food for farmland birds through supplementary feeding.
Of possible interest to silage producers is a new rotational grassland option called rye-grass seed set. Under this option, the field (which must be at least 50% rye-grass) remains closed after the silage cut is taken to allow the sward to flower and set seed, providing a source of food over winter for a range of farmland birds. The normal rotation then resumes the following March.
At the same time as these new options are introduced, other options are being amended.
For hedgerow management options, the definition of what constitutes an eligible hedge has been changed. The number of points for basic management reduced, making it more difficult to access the scheme using hedges alone.
For dry stone wall maintenance, the definition of an eligible wall has tightened considerably. Walls now need to be complete with no gaps and at least 75% of their original top stones in place to count. Farmers also need to carry out an annual inspection of their walls and keep a record of repairs.
These changes will effect all ELS agreements that are renewing on or after January 1. Anyone coming out of an ESA scheme in May 2013 will also be affected and farmers in this position need to start planning now for a smooth transition to UELS.
There are many organisations currently offering advice on entering ELS/UELS but it is strongly recommended that farmers seek professional advice from an independent land agent to ensure the options they choose fit best with their business.
David Morley, environmental adviser for H&H Land and Property