Natural England today announced Entry Level Stewardship applications have reopened after they were suspended in December.

It means farmers can apply for ELS again once they have received their updated maps from the Rural Payments Agency.

The scheme was suspended while mapping data was updated and Natural England upgraded its computer systems.

Robin Tucker, Natural England’s executive director for National Delivery, thanked farmers for their “patience and understanding” while the system was not in use in recent weeks.

He explained: “We’ve worked hard to carry out the improvements in as short a period as possible and have finished ahead of time.

“Farmers and land managers now have access to a faster, clearer applications process based on enhanced software and the latest maps from the Rural Payments Agency.

“By making it easier for farmers to apply, we want to support the efforts they are making through ELS and help ensure the success of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.”

The new ELS online system allows farmers to calculate points as features, save information as they go, and measure boundary features.

Farmers who submit a valid, accurate application before 17 February will be given a start date of 1 March.

However, some are not due to receive their confirmatory maps from RPA until February and they are advised to wait until these have arrived before applying.