.Environmental Stewardship (ES) was launched in March 2005 with three component strands: Entry Level Stewardship (ELS), Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS). This marks a new approach to delivery of agri-environment policy in England; bringing together the separate existing approaches of Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Areas and extending the potential for environmental management to the entire farmed landscape through the introduction of ELS/OELS. ES will also be used to secure effective management of many designated sites currently being managed under English Nature’s Wildlife Enhancement Scheme (WES). ES will have a wider range of objectives than existing schemes, encompassing new objectives of resource protection, flood risk management and genetic conservation.
ES is designed to be more clearly focused on delivering defined environmental outcomes than previous agri-environment schemes. Primarily, this will be achieved by two main approaches, both supported by provision of comprehensive advisory material to applicants and agreement holders. In ELS and OELS, applicants will be responsible for identifying and mapping features of environmental interest on their farm and submitting an application based on positive management of these features. The objective will be to score enough points to meet an entry threshold, which will be linked to the size of the farm. For entry to HLS (which generally builds on ELS/OELS), a comprehensive farm environmental plan will be required, usually produced by a third party which will identify the key environmental features of interest. The agreement generated as a result of this plan will ensure the environmental features are placed in appropriate management options and will define a series of indicators that will help inform whether the intended outcome is being achieved.
In view of this new approach, Defra initially requires a comprehensive evaluation of the introductory phase of ES. A range of issues will be addressed, including the response of farmers and other stakeholders to the scheme design and its processes; the rate of uptake of different ES options and their appropriateness with reference to Defra’s targeting strategy; the potential of the scheme to deliver desired outcomes; and the additionality provided by different strands of the scheme. To achieve this, the project will require a multidisciplinary approach involving several distinct work packages. Various approaches will be used to evaluate this introductory phase, including questionnaire/interview of applicants, agreement holders and other stakeholders; statistical and spatial analysis of scheme uptake data; modelling of potential outcomes and field survey of agreements. Given the different approaches represented by the three strands of the scheme, it will be important that sufficient coverage of each is obtained to draw valid conclusions about its potential effectiveness.
During this introductory phase of ES, there is a need for rapid feedback, whilst recognising that a comprehensive evaluation should address the response to the scheme across several application windows. Hence Defra will expect the contractor to produce a series of interim reports against agreed milestones. The reports will need to produce information on individual strands of the scheme, but will also need to integrate data from all three strands to provide holistic feedback on the likely benefits of ES.
The introduction of ES is in parallel with the introduction of Genesis, a new computerised system that will process applications and hold agreement information, including the capacity to identify environmental features being managed and their condition, as well as identifying the scheme options under which they are being managed. Information held on Genesis will be spatially linked via the Rural Land Registry and can be analysed in conjunction with other spatial datasets. Contractors will have access to (and will be expected to make full use of) a range of Genesis outputs.