Record applications for countryside stewardship scheme

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) has announced a boom in green farming with record applications for its Countryside Stewardship scheme.

The scheme is being massively expanded under the England Rural Development Plan as part of the Government’s move to re-direct Common Agriculture Policy support away from payments for production towards assistance for enhancing the environment and rural development.

“I am delighted that the Government’s increased budget for Stewardship – which will rise from £13 million in 1997 to an estimated £126 million by 2006 – has been met with such an enthusiastic response from farmers,” said Countryside Minister, Elliot Morely, during a visit to a large Lincolnshire arable farm which is applying to enter its entire holding into the scheme. “More and more are embracing the scheme as a way of enhancing the environment of their farms.”

If accepted the application of the 3000 hectare, Willoughby Farm at Alford, in Lincolnshire, will be the biggest farm under the scheme, a MAFF spokesman told edie. Stewardship on the farm will include the establishment and maintenance of more than 113km of field margins and hedgerows, including hedge planting and conservation headlands. Wildlife conservation is also being addressed through the sympathetic management of 40 hectares of existing grassland and the creation of 20 hectares of existing grassland with pond restoration, scrub clearance and the raising of water levels, providing a variety of habitats encouraging snipe, lapwing, curlew and redshank, as well as wetland species.

If accepted, the farm will qualify for hundreds of thousands of pounds in payments over a 10 year period, and will form one of the biggest agreements under the scheme.

“Stewardship has always been a popular and heavily oversubscribed scheme,” said Morely. “In the past we have had to reject considerable numbers of worthwhile applications, simply on the grounds of not having enough money. This year, we should, however, be able to accept more than double the number of agreements in 1999.”

“I continue to be both delighted and impressed by the overwhelming commitment to Stewardship and to conservation in general by the farming community, even in these difficult times,” added Morely.

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