The north east of England has the poorest record of environmental scheme uptake in the country, according to DEFRA’s latest statistics.

Only 380 entry level scheme (ELS) agreements had been finalised in the north-east up to 7 November 2005, and not one producer had joined the higher level scheme (HLS).

In stark contrast, figures for the West Country show more than 1500 farmers are ELS members, as well as 122 in the HLS.

But one conservation adviser in the north east is trying to restore parity.

Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group conservation adviser, Marian Wilby, said she believed many of the region’s farms could qualify for the ELS with minimal disruption to the farm business.

She urged producers at a recent farm walk that many holdings would be eligible for ELS scheme payments without the need for major change or investment.

Some types of farm would score points more easily than others, but producers were often failing to recognise the landscape features required for a successful application, she added.

“Mixed lowland farms and upland farms with large areas of rushy pasture should find it relatively easy to score the necessary points.

However it may be more difficult for improved holdings in Less Favoured Areas, where there are worries that it will reduce forage stocks,” admitted Mrs Wilby.

“People find it hard to identify features that would count towards their point score.

It could be that familiarity with the landscape means they are overlooking valuable conservation assets.”

Farm walk host Colin McFadden has already improved wildlife features at his own expense at Harperley farm, Stanley, County Durham.

“I am considering the ELS and the HLS, but I find all the different rules very confusing, although I am keen to benefit wildlife,” said Mr McFadden.

“In the past, I have struggled to find skilled workers to carry out fencing and hedging work, so that is another concern.”

DEFRA’s five-year ELS offers a flat-rate payment of 30/ha across the farm (with the exception of extensively grazed uplands).

For more information, telephone the North-East Rural Development Service: 0845 602 4097.

fwnews@rbi.co.uk