‘Good progress’ on environmental stewardship, Defra

Over 5 million hectares of land in England, an area roughly twice the size of Wales, are now covered by schemes which aim to conserve our valuable landscape and its wildlife, according to a report published by Defra and Natural England today. 

Environmental Stewardship is a Government-funded scheme open to all farmers,  which funds the delivery of environmental benefits through agriculture.  The scheme aims to conserve wildlife, maintain and enhance our landscape quality and character, protect our natural resources, and promote public access to the countryside. 

Environmental Stewardship is the latest phase of 21 years of agri-environment schemes which have brought real benefit to the countryside.

These schemes have:

  • Delivered 5 million hectares across England under Environmental Stewardship agreements
  • Restored more than 17,000 kilometres of hedgerow
  • Created more than 4,800 kilometres of footpaths, and 2,400 kilometres of cycle paths and bridleways
  • Assisted recovery of a range of species including the stone curlew, bittern, twite, cirl bunting, and chough
  • And we are on target to bring 95% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest into favourable condition by 2010

Today’s report also makes a number of recommendations for the future of the scheme, in particular the need to address the scope that Environmental Stewardship has to help combat climate change and help mitigate its effects on wildlife and habitats. 

Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn, visited Pympes Court Farm in Maidstone today to launch the report and to see the benefits that Environmental Stewardship can bring to the local environment.  He said:

“Environmental Stewardship is our flagship scheme for farming and the environment.  It is open to all farmers in England and has introduced a wealth of improvements to our countryside.  Our farming industry has such an important role to play here, and I’m pleased that with their help we’re seeing real changes. 

“I am delighted that so many farmers have entered Stewardship and hope that more will now do so.  The scheme’s additional focus on tackling climate change is particularly important.

“I warmly welcome the recommendations of this review and we will now work closely with Natural England to implement the changes to the scheme options and to develop the other ideas on scheme design to ensure that Environmental Stewardship continues to achieve its aims.”

Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: 

“We are pleased that the review has recognised the progress made since the introduction of Environmental Stewardship, but agree there is no room for complacency.  Natural England will be working hard to implement the findings of this review in a way that allows Environmental Stewardship to address the challenge of climate change and to do more to help the environment.  In implementing the findings of the review we will be mindful that we must offer farmers a sufficiently attractive and competitive package to ensure their continued participation in the scheme.”

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