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FARMERS WANTING to join the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme at could miss out on cash because of digital mapping problems.

The first round of the scheme will start in August, with payment in February 2006, and the deadline for applications is May 31.

But, Anthony Gibson, NFU south-west director, said many were still waiting for their maps, which are a necessary part of the application.

“We are getting calls all the time. Other than set-aside, there are more calls on this than anything else.”

Mr Gibson said DEFRA’s advice to those affected would be to apply at a later date – the scheme has four payment windows each year – and miss out on at least three months of payments, or use earlier maps that didn’t include all of their land.

But, by choosing the latter, farmers could lose valuable payments of £30/ha (£12/acre) over the next five years.

This is because ELS agreements run for a fixed term and it is not possible to add extra land during that time.

Philip Butcher, of Wilts consultant Howard Smith, said there were problems with the maps for the vast majority of the firm‘s 95 clients.

Some had received none at all and those who had needed to amend the original RLR maps had either not received the updated copies or they had been updated incorrectly.

Helen Curnow, of Strutt & Parker, said the delay was partly due to changes in the eligibility requirements for land entered into ELS.

“Originally woodland couldn’t be included but now it can be.” That had spurred many landowners to register extra land, she added.

“I would say about 70% of our clients did this and none of their final maps are back yet.”