Natural England boss suggests ‘raising the bar’ on Entry Level Stewardship Scheme

The head of the government’s new environmental watchdog has rung alarm bells by suggesting that she would like to “raise the bar” on securing access into the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme.

Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England, said she believed a case could be made for raising the points target for ELS, so public money secured real environmental benefits.

This view is in contrast to the original thinking behind the scheme, which was that it should be a ‘broad and shallow’ scheme open to all producers.

Dr Phillips said that public funds should primarily be used to support land managers who were contributing to the positive improvement of the natural environment. They should not in general be used to pay land managers to stop polluting or damaging the natural environment.

She went on to tell the NFU annual conference that environmental funding needed to better targeted at those land managers who could best help meet the environmental challenges the country faced.

“I believe there is potential for higher level stewardship to be an invitation only scheme, directed at those areas where there is the greatest need to support environmental benefits,” she said.

Dr Phillips acknowledged that many farmers had wasted time and money putting together a Higher Level Stewardship Scheme application, only to have it rejected because of limited funding.

This was why NE had decided that from 1 April, a pre-screening process would be introduced to save farmers going to the time and trouble of putting together an application if they had no chance of being accepted.

“We will tell you whether you have any chance of success and only then will you need to put together an HLS application,” she said.