24 July 1998

ESA schemes no block to sound management

FARMING in an Environmentally Sensitive Area provides fewer restrictions than expected, allowing good management of productive swards to support livestock.

That is why John Stone was keen to support the South West Peak ESA in the area where he farms. He has no complaints about the scheme after its first four years, with the minor exception of liming restrictions.

His 96ha (237-acre) Grange Farm, Onecote, Leek, supports 90 dairy cows averaging 8000 litres, their youngstock, and a 55-head suckler enterprise and purchased yearling heifers for selling as cows with calves at foot. A further 53ha (130 acres) of grass keep is rented.

The ESA scheme aims to recreate a diversity of grasses and wildlife, and uses different classifications for grassland management, said ESA project manager, Simon Huguet.

Grange Farm has grass in three management tiers, improved arable leys and pastures, permanent pasture, and restricted pasture.

"The improved pasture is the main source of forage for the farm, has few management restrictions and only qualifies for a small payment.

"The bulk of Grange Farm is permanent pasture which has restrictions on fertiliser application, weed control methods, reseeding and liming, for which Mr Stone receives £45/ha," said Mr Huguet.

But a small area – 10ha (25 acres) – is in the restricted grass category which has botanical and wildlife interest. Management is tightly controlled to avoid trampling of plants and allow plant species to flourish, mainly through restricting grazing dates and fertiliser use.

"When this small area is fenced it will be easier to manage it separately. Then we wont graze it until late July after the flowers have headed, and can then graze it two or three times more," adds Mr Stone.