16 January 1998

Pilot areas see launch of MAFF arable scheme

MAFFS Arable Stewardship Scheme was officially launched this week in two pilot areas – the West Midlands and East Anglia – with grants of up to £750/ha (£303/acre) available to improve biodiversity on farmland.

Junior farm minister Elliot Morley hopes the initiative will help change farming practices to encourage the number of species of birds, mammals, insects and plants.

The stewardship scheme, on which MAFF has been consulting with industry since last year (News, June 27), has a budget of £500,000 available in the first year, which comes on top of the £5m provision under the main Countryside Stewardship scheme.

Farmers in the two contrasting pilot areas will be offered varying grants, depending on which of the five options they choose, plus one-off payments for certain improvements such as post and wire fencing, rabbit guards, and ditch restoration. Technical advice will also be paid for.

Eligibility is restricted to land that has been in arable production, including set-aside, since Dec 1996.

Mr Morley said: "I am very pleased to see this pioneering new project finally get under way. The pilot will enable us to see which measures prove the most effective at halting the decline of wildlife in arable areas." &#42