Stewardship schemes bring wider rural benefit

Farmers who join environmental management schemes also provide income, jobs and other benefits for rural communities, says a report.

Environmental stewardship payments can lead to wider increases in local income and employment, as well as the development of farmers’ social networks and farm business skills, according to the DEFRA funded study.

Junior DEFRA minister Huw Irranca-Davies said farmers did a vital job looking after the countryside. But stewardship benefits extended beyond protecting wildlife and habitats, as well as restoring and maintaining features such as dry stone walls.

“Their work and involvement in these schemes also lead to important positive ripple effects on their local communities, through increases in employment, local investment and social networks.”

Environmental stewardship expenditure supported the equivalent of 665 new full-time local jobs during 2005-2009. Some £249m was invested in stewardship during 2009, helping local economies to generate an additional £64.7m.

Two thirds of England’s farmers are now in environmental stewardship or its equivalent. Many reported improving their skills and knowledge by participating in the schemes, overseen by Natural England, the government’s landscape agency.

The report was completed by the Countryside and Community Research Institute and jointly managed by DEFRA and Natural England.