More needs to be done to address the role Environmental Stewardship plays in combating climate change, according to a DEFRA report into the schemes.

“Good progress” has been made in implementing agri-environment schemes, with more than 5m ha of land in England entered into them since they were launched 21 years ago, the Environmental Stewardship Review of Progress said.

And while they have bought “real benefit” to the countryside, including the creation of 1700km of hedgerows, climate change needed to become the “overarching theme” of ESS, it said.

While combating climate change wasn’t an explicit objective of the schemes in the past, there was evidence much of them helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the report said.

It recommended further research into new options to raise the awareness of climate change among farmers and land managers to help inform future decisions.

In addition, the review suggested more than 100 changes to Entry Level Scheme options, a full review of the payment scheme, and a series of measures to improve local relevance of ELS.

DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn said ESS had introduced “a wealth of improvements” to the countryside and the government would work with Natural England to help develop the schemes.

However Oxfordshire Tom Allen-Stevens criticised DEFRA for not doing enough to promote the positive impacts of ESS to the public.

Writing in the FWi forums, Mr Allen-Stevens said: “All I see of ESS is filling in forms and rules about what I can or can’t do.

“Instead, give me a sense that the things I’m doing are actually achieving the bigger objective and I could do so much more.

“Natural England and DEFRA need to learn how to talk to farmers if they really want taxpayers to get value for money.

“And we desperately need to be seen to be delivering this, or our subsidies will be under threat.”

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What farmers have done under Environmental Stewardship in the last 21 years:

* Delivered 5m ha under Environmental Stewardship agreements

* Restored over 17,000km of hedgerow

* Created over 4800km of footpaths

* Assisted recovery of a range of species, including bittern, twite and chough