Natural England - Celebrating 25 years of agri-environment schemes

Celebrating 25 years of agri-environment schemes

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Ringlet butterfly © Natural England

2012 marks the 25th anniversary of agri-environment schemes in England. To mark this Silver Jubilee, we aim to:

Evolution of agri-environment schemes in England

The evolutionary timelineexternal link shows the context for the birth of agri-environment schemes in the mid 1980s.  Post war intensification and increased mechanisation had led to a loss of habitats and a degradation of landscapes.  This triggered a growth in ecology and conservation movements keen to halt the decline. The mid-1980s saw campaigns to save grazing marsh in The Broads and to protect the South Downs chalk grassland. 

The first Environmental Sensitive Areas (ESA) Schemes were launched in five areas: The Broads, Pennine Dales, South Downs, Somerset Levels and Moors and West Penwith. This was a new and bold way of providing practical support to farmers to retain and protect valuable and threatened landscape, wildlife and archaeology. Conserving hedgerows and field margins, reducing fertiliser use and supporting extensive grazing were among the early priorities.

From the experiences learnt in the early ESAs came the development of more targeted schemes and agreements to conserve and enhance the countryside, which have helped to bring about and respond to environmental changes. Today, Environmental Stewardship is the main mechanism for agri-environment delivery, with varying levels of support available through Higher Level Stewardship and Entry Level Stewardship. The focus is on maximising the environmental benefits delivered by the agreements. There are also organic and uplands variants of the scheme.

Case studies and key statistics

As of November 2012, almost 6.35 million hectares of farmland (68% of the available farmland in England) are under one of the agri-environment schemes managed by Natural England and produce a wide range of benefits.
Natural England has developed an online interactive mapexternal link to showcase examples of how farms are producing food, providing valuable natural services and supporting the local economy through their involvement in Environmental Stewardship and Catchment Sensitive Farming. 

The following links will take you directly to maps to show:

It is also possible to interrogate the map to drill down into more specific categories, for example, land being managed for the benefit of:

The full list of categoriesexternal link will have more case studies added over the coming months.

landscape crop