Farmers to be paid for protecting countryside


Once they were strictly food producers. But from today England's farmers are officially something more: guardians of the countryside.

Once they were strictly food producers. But from today England's farmers are officially something more: guardians of the countryside.

Their new role was signalled yesterday by the Government in the biggest shift in the way in which agriculture is funded for more than 30 years. In future all farmers will be eligible for annual payments for environmental protection and enhance- ment work on their land.

They will be able to add thousands of pounds to their income, from a range of work that includes looking after hedgerows to providing habitat for birds and small mammals, creating wildflower plots for bees and other beneficial insects, or protecting ponds from pesticides and fertilisers, to encouraging wildlife such as frogs and newts.

Although there have been two sets of environmentally friendly farming schemes in the past, only about 12 per cent of English farmers have taken part, because the schemes were highly restricted, either to specific geographical areas or to a limited budget.

The point about the new scheme, called Environmental Stewardship and launched yesterday by the Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, is that it is open to every farmer, and every farmer will be encouraged to take part.

It marks the climax of an enormous shift in the way in which agriculture has long been funded under the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In the past, farmers' subsidies were directly linked to production - the more wheat and beef they produced, the more they earned. But this system led both to wasteful over-production and immense damage to the natural environment. Britain has lost about 40 per cent of its farmland birds because of intensive farming in the past three decades, thousands of miles of hedges and much wildlife-rich landscape.

Two years ago, EU member states reformed the CAP and agreed to break the link between production and subsidy; now farmers are paid a single payment based merely on the area they farm, not on how much livestock they have or how much cereal they harvest.

To get this they have to observe a certain number of minimum environmental standards. But now they can top up their income substantially with further Environmental Stewardship payments.

The scheme was welcomed by the National Farmers' Union, which strongly urged its members to take part. "Environmental stewardship is at the core of our businesses," said the union's deputy president, Peter Kendall. "We hope the system will help maintain and deliver the kind of British countryside the public demands."

The scheme is a key component of the Government's strategy for sustainable farming and food. It was recommended two years ago by the commission set up under Sir Don Curry to look at the future of farming after the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 2001.

Sir Don said yesterday that it represented "a fundamental step in farmers committing themselves to sound environmental management".

Mrs Beckett said the launch marked "a real red-letter day for English farming".


Adbury farm near Burghclere in Berkshire is in beautiful countryside, within sight of Watership Down, where Richard Adams' rabbit heroes played out their epic - in fact, in the novel the rabbits crossed the farm to get to the Down - and it is appropriately rich in wildlife, with no fewer than four species of deer.

The farm manager, Peter Clarke, is already in a wildlife-friendly farming scheme under which he leaves stubbles unploughed to encourage ground-nesting birds, has unploughed margins around his cereal fields and plants seed-bearing crops for insects and birds. Lapwings are breeding on the farm and there is a healthy population of skylarks.

Under the new scheme he could plant more pollen- and nectar-rich plants to encourage butterflies and bees, and sow other areas with plants bearing seeds for wild birds. His ambition is to attract grey partridges back to breed on the farm, which may take five years. He is also considering environmentally-friendly management of woodland edges and ditches - which means not trimming them or clearing them out so frequently.

The annual payments for which the 1,100-acre estate will be eligible under the scheme could amount to nearly £9,000.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk