The Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme was introduced in 1987 to offer incentives to encourage farmers to adopt agricultural practices which would safeguard and enhance parts of the country of particularly high landscape, wildlife or historic value.
The scheme has now closed to new applicants and has been superseded by the Environmental Stewardship scheme. Some existing agreements will, however, continue until 2014. Farmers with an existing agreement, which lasts for 10 years, receive an annual payment on each hectare of land entered into the scheme. Grants are also available towards capital works such as hedge laying and planting, and repairing dry-stone walls.
There are 22 ESAs in England, covering some 10% of agricultural land. These were introduced in stages as follows:
The ESAs scheme aims to maintain and often to enhance the conservation, landscape and historical value of the key environmental features of an area, and, where possible, improve public access to these areas.
Farmer-managed ESAs include some of our most important landscapes: upland; wetland; moor; coastal marsh; river valleys, which offer protection for some of our rarest plants and establish a suitable environment for the recovery of native species.
Resulting environmental benefits have included: