The NFU and Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group have joined forces to encourage farmers to sign up to an environmental stewardship scheme.

Almost 3.2 million hectares – equal to eight million football pitches – have already been signed up to Entry Level Stewardship, Higher Level Stewardship and Organic Entry Level Stewardship schemes since the first agreements started in August 2005
 
Farmers with agreements are carrying out work such as replacing and maintaining hedgerows and building and protecting dry stones walls – with payments linked to the work they implement.
 
NFU director of policy Martin Haworth said: “These schemes see farmers rewarded for the work they do in maintaining one of the UK’s greatest assets
 
“For those who have been able to get into the scheme it has been very rewarding. However there have been administration problems, which have meant many people who had wanted to join have been left waiting.
 
“The NFU has, and continues to, lobby to ensure there are options within the Entry Level Scheme to suit every farm in every situation. ELS can play a crucial role in allowing farmers to recoup some of the monies deducted through the EU and national modulation.
 
 “We believe a well-planned scheme that considers the needs of each farm business and also benefits the environment and wildlife will bring benefits to everyone.”
 
To help boost take up of the agri-environment schemes FWAG is able to offer workshops, clinics and on-farm advice to help farmers join the scheme.

DEFRA has a target uptake of 45% of available land to be under an ELS/OELS agreement by April 2007, and 60% by December 2007.

According to DEFRA, so far take up is around 26,000 agreements, with 24,000 in ELS, 1,030 in OELS and 575 in HLS plus a further 330 HLS beginning in September 2006.