Tir Cynnal, the Welsh entry level agri-environment scheme, has received EU Commission approval.

More than 5000 farmers have already applied for the scheme when they completed their single farm payment entitlement claim.

These will be offered contracts in the early spring of 2006.

A new application window will open in late March next year when farmers get their next SAF form.

The first Tir Cynnal area payments linked to the protection and enhancement of the countryside and environment should start from April 2006.

Participating farms have to show that wildlife habitats account for at least 5% of their land area.

Payments will be tiered, starting at 45/ha (18/acre) for the first 20ha (50 acres) and falling to 2/ha (80p/acre) for anything over 200ha (500acres).

This means that a 70ha (172 acre) farm will receive 2300 a year.

Carwyn Jones, assembly rural affairs minister, welcomed the rubber-stamping of the Welsh scheme, and insisted that farmers had an important role in caring for the Welsh countryside.