As the Secretary of State made clear in his announcement on 12 December 2006, Official Report, column 77WS, we have kept the Environmental Stewardship Scheme open to new applications in advance of formal approval of the Rural Development Programme for England.
Agreements entered into since 1 January are provisional and are being funded from existing indicative budgets agreed when the scheme was launched. No specific, separate budget has been made available for the period prior to programme approval.
The final, total number of new agreements entered into on a contingency basis since 1 January will depend on the date the new Rural Development Programme for England is approved. During this period, Natural England is continuing to work towards existing targets. That is, by the end of 2007, some 60 per cent. of the agricultural area in England will be managed under an Entry Level Scheme agreement. We are also working towards a target of having some 525,000 hectares of land under a combination of either Higher Level Stewardship or the previously operated Countryside Stewardship Scheme.