Agri-environment schemes were introduced in the mid-1980s. Their primary objectives have developed from initially aiming to hold back intensification towards stimulating environmental enhancement. The introduction of Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) in England represents a third stage in seeking to extend the coverage of schemes across the majority of agricultural land. This aims to influence land use along the whole of the intensive margin. The ELS offers a wide range of options for which farmers are awarded points. Selection of options equivalent to 30 points per ha in lowland areas entitles farmers to a payment of £30 per ha. By September 2007, 4.4 million ha had been entered into the scheme, equivalent to 47% of the agricultural area. From amongst the options on offer, 34% of points were for boundary options, 20% for intensive grass options, 16% for management plans and 13% for options taking arable land out of production. The choice of options varies across the country with a higher proportion of the agricultural area entered in the East. Entry into the scheme is associated with total agricultural area, cereals farming, larger farms, a lower proportion of area in Environmentally Sensitive Area and Countryside Stewardship schemes and grazing livestock numbers. While the ELS has introduced a large number of new entrants into agri-environment schemes, the extent of the environmental impact is uncertain. Given the large number of options available, it is likely that farmers will have chosen options that involve relatively little change and incur limited cost. At the same time, it would be surprising if the environmental gains were of the types most valued within local areas. The ELS approach implies that public goods provided from agricultural land should be paid for irrespective of what would have happened in the absence of the scheme. While this may be a fairer approach, it may also undermine the idea of land stewardship and imply that payments will continue to be required in the long term in order to sustain provision. The ELS does establish a framework within which incentives could be targeted to deliver specific benefits within particular contexts and suggestions are made as to how policy might be developed for this. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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