The north east has more land in Higher Level Stewardship than any other region in England and Wales, with almost 10,000ha (24,709 acres) already entered into the scheme and more than 50 applications under consideration.

Two new HLS livestock grazing options may also prove popular.

The region’s large area of upland and coastal dunes, which are among the target environments, are set to benefit from more funding.

The north-east RDS office is contacting farms in the ELS with nesting colonies of tree sparrows and corn buntings in the hope that producers will sign up for the bird-friendly HLS options, worth up to £475/ha.

“Nationally, tree sparrow numbers have fallen by 95% and corn buntings by 88% over the past 30 years,” says Newcastle-based RDS adviser Neil Clark.

“In our region this decline has largely halted, thanks to farmers’ efforts.

Taking up the bird-friendly HLS options will help to continue the trend, by safeguarding feeding and breeding areas.”

One of the new HLS grazing options offers payments worth up to £70/ha for rough grassland to be stocked with “native breeds at risk”, to benefit sensitive wild plants.

The qualifying breeds include Border Leicester and Wensleydale sheep and Belted Galloway and Dairy Shorthorn cattle.

Native horse and pony breeds, such as the Cleveland Bay and the Shetland pony, may also qualify.

The other option rewards producers with £35/ha for grazing cattle.

HLS agreement holders can apply to have the new options added to their existing contracts.

FWAG adviser Marian Wilby says these options might prove attractive on livestock farms with rough grazing, especially where Countryside Stewardship agreements are due to expire.

“The HLS is becoming more competitive, so these supplements are worth looking at.

They could increase the viability of native breed enterprises in some parts of the region,” says Mrs Wilby.

“Cattle, in particular, can help with managing areas like rushy pasture, and native breed meat is gaining in popularity.

“Although they can take longer to finish than Continental types, our traditional cattle breeds are often easier to keep and require lower inputs.”

wendy@skyehall.freeserve.co.uk