Agency pledge over stewardship

Natural England has pledged to keep farmers informed over the suspension of environmental stewardship applications.

Online applications for entry-level stewardship will be suspended from 4 December 2009 to 1 February 2010.

But farmers will still be able to join entry-level stewardship by returning a valid paper application to Natural England before Christmas.

Farmers who cannot do this will be able to see the scheme changes in new handbooks available online from early December.

The suspension of applications is due to the timing of new mapping data from the Rural Land Registry and changes to the stewardship application process.

As a result, Natural England is updating its systems.

The ELS Online system will be taken offline and application packs for entry-level stewardship – including Organic ELS – will not be issued.

Higher-level stewardship will be unaffected.

ELS Online and ELS application packs will be made available again on 1 February. Applications received in February will be given a March 1st start date.

Natural England’s executive director Robin Tucker said: “We do not undertake such major changes lightly, and we have taken steps to minimise the impact on farmers.

“We will keep farmers and advisers well informed and supported through this period of change.”

The agency was keen to maintain its record of processing 100% of applications within target times and making 96% of payments within a month, said Mr Tucker.

NFU countryside adviser Andrea Graham said farmers affected by the suspension could still study the new stewardship handbooks online during December.

“It will be possible for our members to see the new options that will be available in the schemes from 1 February onwards.”

A summary of the changes can be seen at