There has been justified criticism in recent years that agri-environment schemes such as Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) are not achieving their full potential for nature conservation, and in particular for those wildlife species that are in decline. There is no doubt that there is scope for more value to be delivered, however the difficulty is achieving it on the ground. Farmers and landowners have to balance the desire to make a difference for the environment with the constraints of making a living from their land.
Sound ecological principles must be at the heart of each scheme if maximum value is to be accrued for target species, valued habitats and the wider farmland landscape. If this is the case it is also true that such a scheme is far more likely to be accepted by Natural England, which is obviously one of the prime concerns of the applicant.
It is essential that the Farm Environment Plan (FEP) is prepared by advisors with a good ecological understanding so that they are able to recognise the range of species and habitats present and assess the potential enhancement opportunities. The advisor must also be able to consider how the agri-environment application for the farm will relate to the surrounding holdings, the ecological interest found there and habitats linkage opportunities to allow wildlife to disperse. Once the agreement begins it is vital that ecological input continues through feedback and review on the relative successes of each element of the scheme.
Ecological appraisal is equally essential to setting environmental objectives for wider land management such as within our parkland estates and woodlands. Carter Jonas has launched a new Ecology and Natural Environment Service; we can offer professional advice to estate managers and farmers on agri-environment schemes and other land management options to enhance the wildlife potential of your land.