A lapwing© FLPA/REX/Shutterstock

Nearly 100 farming groups have signed up to work on Defra stewardship projects across England.

The Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund rewards groups of farmers who come together to work on improving the natural environment across their land, providing habitats for wildlife and aiding conservation.

Defra has called the fourth round of the fund one of the most successful yet, with 37 new groups of farmers from Cornwall to Northumberland signed up to agreements after a competitive application round, which closed in November.

See also: Video: How Gloucestershire farmers are working to prevent future flooding

There are now 98 groups working across England on the common goal of better delivering environmental improvements on their land, funded by Defra.

More than 450,000ha of holdings in England are delivering measures for wildlife, water management and the historic environment.

Farm minister George Eustice said: “The facilitation fund we have established aims to support partnership working and bring together farmers and other land managers to deliver local conservation projects.

“It is particularly encouraging to see how many high-quality applications we received, which we hope to replicate across the Countryside Stewardship scheme following the steps we have taken to simplify the wildlife packages.”

Claire Robinson, NFU countryside adviser, said going forward it is important to work out which parts of the scheme work and why, in order to have a positive impact on environmental delivery.

Case study one: Dane Headwater

This group has 24 members and covers an area of 2,653ha in Cheshire. The three priorities to be taken forward over the three-year agreement are water, wading birds and woodland.

  • Water Take a holistic approach to reducing water pollution and reducing flood risk.
  • Wading birds Improve the monitoring of snipe, curlew and lapwing and improve their habitats of blanket bog, upland heath and rush pasture
  • Woodland Preserve ancient clough woodlands of the upper Dane, which act as a refuge for threatened woodland birds, and address management issues of deer pressure and woodland connectivity

Case study two: Pevensey Levels

This group has 41 members and covers an area of 5,001ha in East Sussex. Over a three-year agreement, the group plans to focus on improving habitats, managing priority species and reducing soil erosion.

  • Key priority to extend and link existing habitats to increase connectivity and reduce fragmentation – to use fringing to buffer access and create natural ecotones (a region of transition between two biological communities) to manage predators, introduce wet grassland expertise and rush control
  • Priority species Landowners in the respective areas will be provided with guidance and specialist training on how to manage them
  • Water Reduce the amount and rate of surface water run-off, reduce soil erosion and slow the movement of water