Agency encouraged by hill scheme uptake

More than 3000 farmers have signed up to the Uplands Entry Level Stewardship scheme since it was launched this summer.

Landscape agency Natural England said more than 500,000ha (1.2m acres) of farmland had come under the scheme since its launch on 1 July.

Each farmer who joins the scheme will earn about £57,000 over the course of their five-year uplands ELS agreement.

Payments are worth up to £62/ha (£25/acre) under the initiative, which replaces the Hill Farm Allowance (HFA) scheme.

Natural England said it was particularly pleased that about 90 applications accounted for almost 100,000ha of common land.

This was an area where uptake was initially slow due to the complex way common land is owned and managed.

Natural England advisers have been working closely with the Foundation for Common Land to help members wanting to apply for the scheme.

Natural England director Robin Tucker said uplands ELS could make a key contribution both to hill farmers and the countryside in which they worked.

The scheme did not solely support farmers – it helped underpin a way of life essential for the health of the upland environment.

“Natural England has advisers waiting to give hill farmers free advice and support with their applications,” he said.

“We’d urge anyone interested in uplands ELS to contact their local office.”

More than 3500 farmers had requested information about the scheme and at least 2500 had attended farm events up and down the country.

A recent report found that uplands stewardship schemes safeguarded livestock which played a vital role in maintaining healthy grazing levels.

In turn, this ensured thriving moorland and grassland that supported wildlife and enhanced soil and water quality.

The study was commissioned by the North York Moors National Park Authority and carried out by Askham Bryan College.

Environmental support should be sufficient to ensure that moor sheep were retained on upland farms, it said.