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Environmental Stewardship Scheme

Volume 473: debated on Wednesday 12 March 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations he has received on the removal of management plans from the Entry Level Stewardship schemes; how many farmers he estimates have been affected; and what alternative schemes he plans to bring forward to encourage environmentally-friendly farming. (192345)

Four management plan options—for nutrients, soil, crop protection products and manure—were removed from the list of 62 available options under Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) following discussions with the EU Commission as part of the process of EU approval of the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), under which ELS is funded. This was in response to concerns that these options did not require agreement holders to do more than would be required of them under cross compliance or part of good agricultural and environmental practice and would not therefore justify additional payment.

However, ELS agreements entered into before 1 January 2007 will not be affected by the change and these management plans will continue to attract appropriate payments for the remaining life of agreements.

A number of industry stakeholders have since raised concerns, including the National Farmers Union (NFU), Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Agricultural Industries Confederation, Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) and Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG).

Of the 5,400 provisional agreements entered into from 1 January 2007, around 2,600 include management plans options and around 1,800 of these will no longer have sufficient surplus points to meet the points threshold now that management plan options are not available. Natural England, which delivers the scheme, has contacted all agreement holders and is working closely with those affected to help ensure that they are able to remain in ELS. The latest advice from Natural England suggests that most agreement holders want to remain in the scheme and will choose new options to achieve the required threshold.

It is important to bear in mind that even with the removal of management plans, ELS remains largely unchanged and, with over 30,000 farmers already signed up covering 50 per cent. of farmland in England, the scheme should continue to deliver key environmental outcomes. And with 58 options remaining available, farmers wanting to join ELS should still be able to do so.