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Entry Level Stewardship (ELS)
Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) is open to all farmers and has a wide uptake. In 2012, 68% of English farmland was covered by agri-environment schemes, that is, 6.29 million hectares (mha) of farmland. 90% of this was covered by ELS, that is, 5.68mha of farmland.
The scheme subsidises profit foregone to farmers that undertake environmental management, such as establishing grass and fallow margins or reducing fertiliser use. The menu of options is long and varied, resulting in scheme flexibility to address particular issues local to their holding.
Unfortunately, ELS requires only the bare minimum to earn the requisite points and receive payment; farmers can gain 60% of the points they need through hedge management alone. Add to this the creation of grass margins and the required entry into the scheme is often complete, resulting in low environmental benefits.
Of the 62 options available under ELS, 90% of points scored in approved applications are from fewer than a third, leaving the remaining 42 options (many of which would help wild flowers) making up only 10% of the scheme’s impact. For example, threatened cornfield flowers could benefit from ELS through the cultivation of arable margins, yet less than 1% of farmers implement this option.
In addition, the untargeted nature of the scheme means that there is no focus for options that can benefit wild flowers, lessening the scheme’s impact further. Put another way, ELS cannot work for most farmland flowers without the prescriptions being changed and options being located in the right places. This guidance will be essential to the success of the New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS).
In summary, the coverage of ELS is high but most prescriptions are too weak to deliver real environmental benefit. Those that could deliver have low take-up by farmers. ELS was envisaged as being a ‘broad and shallow’ approach which would engage many farmers. It is certainly broad but it is so shallow that it has no real impact.