Farmers to be paid for conserving landscapes

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The Independent Online

Hill farmers will be paid to protect the natural resources, wildlife and character of their land under a new funding scheme announced by the Environment Department (Defra) today.

The Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (Uplands ELS) replaces the Hill Farm Allowance - which was paid in recognition of the tough conditions faced by hill farmers.

The new scheme aims to conserve England's historic uplands landscapes such as Dartmoor, the Peak District and the Cumbrian Fells and will reward farmers for measures such as maintaining dry stone walls and stone-faced hedge banks.

Farmers can also qualify for financial support in the points-based scheme through land management practices such as cattle grazing, maintaining certain levels of stock on moorland and not using fertilisers within six metres of rivers or streams.

The switch from the Hill Farm Allowance to the Uplands ELS follows a trial of the scheme in the summer, and Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said changes to the system had been made to make it more practical and attractive to farmers.

There will be a transition period between the Hill Farm Allowance, which will continue for an extra year, and Defra will make up £31 million available from its rural development budget to fund uptake of the new programme, he said.

"The uplands are absolutely fundamental to the English countryside," Mr Benn said.

"So much of our history, our art, our literature and our sense of identity are tied up in these glorious landscapes, and it is right that we should ensure that farmers are rewarded for looking after them.

"Many upland farmers are already providing these benefits, looking after the wildlife and natural resources, mending dry stone walls, ensuring that grazing helps the landscape and looking after historic sites.

"Through this new scheme, we'll be able to recognise and reward their commitment and encourage and support others in joining them."

Dr Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England, said: "Our uplands are inspirational places and also provide vital environmental services such as improved water quality, flood prevention and carbon capture.

"Farmers and land managers in the uplands are at the forefront of this crucial work and this new strand of Entry Level Stewardship enables us to recognise their crucial environmental role while supporting their businesses."