Environmental Stewardship will remain open to new applicants from January 2007, despite questions over future levels of funding.

The uncertainties arise from the UK government’s dependence on national voluntary modulation to top up its share of the EU rural development budget. Voluntary modulation has run into problems in Brussels and the outcome will not be known until next spring.

Rural development programmes may not be approved by the EU Commission for another six months after that.

‘Minimise disruption’

“Our aim is to minimise disruption due to this delay,” said DEFRA secretary David Miliband. “We want to keep as near as possible to business as usual.”

Entry Level, Organic Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship would remain open to new applications, he said. Successful applicants would be told their agreements were provisional and could be amended by changes arising from the EU approval process.

It should be possible to make the first six-month payments under ELS and HLS, added a DEFRA official, although adjustments might have to be made to balancing payments to reflect budget changes.

Mr Miliband said he would not be taking any new applications under the Energy Crops Scheme until next summer.

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