Curry says check ELS is doing its job after a year

The Entry Level Stewardship scheme should be evaluated after 12 months to make sure it is delivering as intended, says government adviser Donald Curry.

Sir Donald made the comment at the FWAG/Farmcare Silver Lapwing Awards ceremony on Monday (21 November).

He was responding to concerns raised by the awards’ judges that farmers were choosing ELS options based more on financial reasons than on what environmental benefits they might ultimately deliver.

“It would be ironic if having moved from a food production subsidy policy that created perverse behaviour, we have moved to an alternative that creates perverse behaviour,” he said.

The review should evaluate whether key objectives, such as the creation of habitats and maintenance of countryside features, were being properly addressed in the scheme, and whether the weighting of points allowed the scheme to be applied across the wide landscape of England, said Sir Donald.

Warwickshire arable farmers W J Russell & Son won the 27th Silver Lapwing Award, and a cheque for 1000, because of their long-standing commitment to conservation and environmental management.

Farming 358ha (884 acres) at Toft Farm, Kites Hardwick, near Rugby, it was actually Jim Russell who set the ball rolling by putting in lakes and reed beds when a tributary of the River Leam was straightened about 40 years ago.

His son Stuart said: “He took a lot of hedgerows out and wanted to put something back.”

The judges were particularly impressed by that historic commitment – not driven by financial incentives – and the way commercial farming had been integrated with the abundant wildlife and sporting potential on the farm.