DEFRA has made it clear that both food production and food security are important, but that it is not prepared to sacrifice biodiversity in pursuit of these objectives.
But things are not entirely as they first seem. Though the statement following the spending review made it clear that the department?s intention is to allow environmental stewardship to remain open to all farmers, the decision to cut this year?s £57million stewardship budget means that the scheme is all spent until April 2011. So, though the door is open to new applicants and those renewing, no signed agreements will be going out until after that date. Some land managers who are in the process of transferring from old Countryside Stewardship schemes to Higher Level Stewardship schemes (HLS) will be reluctant to remove conservation work that they were hoping to transfer across into HLS, but face the prospect of a six-month delay. Land managers will also be thinking hard before paying out for the required Farm Environment Plan when they won?t be able to recoup the costs for at least six months. The HLS process will remain a competitive one to provide the maximum environmental outcomes and value for money. Furthermore, Natural England, which administers the Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) schemes and HLS schemes, admits that the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review may not affect whether we offer an agreement for a current application, but it might affect how generous the offer is. The review promises to swell the HLS budget by 80 per cent by 2013 to 2014, but whether that?s an 80 per cent increase on the cut or uncut budget isn?t clear.
It is vital, however, that shoot managers are not discouraged by the uncertainty surrounding HLS and continue to apply. The application process may be a struggle against red tape, but the rewards are great. On an 800-acre farm at Loddington, through HLS and ELS schemes we have secured £23,000 per annum ? a total of £230,000 over the 10-year agreement. In the uncertain world of farming, where weather and global markets can play havoc with food prices, this is valuable guaranteed income. Those who run shoots can pay for their gamecrops by applying for the HLS wildlife seed mixes, which include kale and quinoa. Environmental stewardship continues to offer the best approach to ensure that farmers can continue to farm productively while making sure that our wildlife is protected.
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