Natural England - Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) agreements: rationales for transition into Environmental Stewardship (ES)

Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) agreements: rationales for transition into Environmental Stewardship (ES)

We aim to be consistent and transparent in our approach to the transition of Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) agreements to Environmental Stewardship (ES).

To support this, we are developing a series of documents setting out the ‘rationales’ for transfers of agreements in the 22 ESAs into ES. These capture how advisors are dealing with expiring agreements and indicate:

  • whether land in each ESA tier should most appropriately transfer to HLS or ELS/Uplands ELS and

  • the most appropriate HLS or ELS / Uplands ELS options to continue the environmental management.

Your local adviser will refer to the rationales to help in discussing your potential for HLS, or to explain decisions made about your agreement.

Information on why we are moving from ESAs to Environmental Stewardship is available in each of the rationale documents below.

Factors common to all ESAs

  • Almost all ESA land can be transferred into ES, but there is no automatic right to enter into HLS.

  • HLS is designed to support delivery of priority environmental benefits.

  • HLS agreements are developed primarily by invitation from Natural England. Potential sites are identified through an initial assessment by advisers and confirmed following HLS clinics as part of the 3-Tier HLS process. Applications not via this route are the exception.

  • There is an expectation that lower Tier land, especially Tier 1, will transfer to ELS unless there are very specific reasons for HLS (for example, key farmland birds options, historic environment, key supporting areas for SPAs etc). Similarly, grassland reversions driven by landscape priorities will transfer to ELS.

Other general principles regarding ESA transfers to ES

  • Although land has been under ESA management for at least 10 years (often 20 years) the focus of ESAs was to ‘protect from harm’ rather than enhance the environmental interests.

  • Advisers are aware of the potential impact of the change in regime that can come with the change from ESA to ES, particularly HLS. We can only consider offering HLS agreements that will deliver the relevant environmental outcomes, but in negotiating these advisers are aware of potential impact that abrupt changes to stocking levels, grazing seasons and management generally could have on the wider farming business.

    We recognise that HLS delivery depends on agreement holders carrying out an agreed programme of works, which in most cases relies on a financially viable wider farm business.

  • Where sites have received habitat restoration works over the last 20 years, and the desired habitats have yet to develop, there must be some question over what further improvement can be expected from another 10 years of restoration.  Such sites may be more suited to ELS.

Rationales and opportunities for each ESA

The rationale documents for each ESA are available via the links below (more will be published online shortly). In addition, there are a set of ‘summary documents’ for each ESA which just contain the key ES opportunities for each ESA and the tables showing the expected ES equivalent for each ESA tier.

ESAFull rationale documents for each ESASummary of ES opportunities for each ESA
Norfolk BroadsNorfolk Broads rationale: (155kb)pdf documentNorfolk Broads summary: (126kb)pdf document
Pennine DalesPennine Dales rationale: (238kb)pdf documentPennine Dales summary: (223kb)pdf document
Somerset Levels and MoorsSomerset Levels and Moors rationale: (173kb)pdf documentSomerset Levels and Moors summary: (140kb)pdf document
South DownsSouth Downs rationale: (152kb)pdf documentSouth Downs summary: (133kb)pdf document
West PenwithWest Penwith rationale: (169kb)pdf documentWest Penwith summary: (137kb)pdf document
BrecklandBreckland rationale: (167kb)pdf documentBreckland summary: (136kb)pdf document
Clun ForestClun Forest rationale: (165kb)pdf documentClun Forest summary: (121kb)pdf document
North PeakNorth Peak rationale: (200kb)pdf documentNorth Peak summary: (169kb)pdf document
Suffolk River ValleysSuffolk River Valleys rationale: (163kb)pdf documentSuffolk River Valleys summary: (132kb)pdf document
Test ValleyTest Valley rationale: (162kb)pdf documentTest Valley summary: (131kb)pdf document
Avon ValleyAvon Valley rationale: (164kb)pdf documentAvon Valley summary: (132kb)pdf document
ExmoorExmoor rationale: (170kb)pdf documentExmoor summary: (139kb)pdf document
Lake DistrictLake District rationale: (221kb)pdf documentLake District summary: (193kb)pdf document
North Kent MarshesNorth Kent Marshes rationale: (158kb)pdf documentNorth Kent Marshes summary: (130kb)pdf document
South Wessex DownsSouth Wessex Downs rationale: (168kb)pdf documentSouth Wessex Downs summary: (138kb)pdf document
South West PeakSouth West Peak rationale: (167kb)pdf documentSouth West Peak summary: (137kb)pdf document
Blackdown HillsBlackdown Hills rationale: (165kb)pdf documentBlackdown Hills summary: (135kb)pdf document
Cotswold HillsCotswold Hills rationale: (185kb)pdf documentCotswold Hills summary: (156kb)pdf document
DartmoorDartmoor rationale: (173kb)pdf documentDartmoor summary: (142kb)pdf document
Essex CoastEssex Coast rationale: (111kb)pdf documentEssex Coast summary: (81kb)pdf document
Shropshire HillsShropshire Hills rationale: (164kb)pdf documentShropshire Hills summary: (132kb)pdf document
Upper Thames TributariesUpper Thames Tributaries rationale: (163kb)pdf documentUpper Thames Tributaries summary: (131kb)pdf document

To find out more about the background to ESAs, please follow this link