The Government has made a major investment in environmentally friendly farming through its Agri - Environment Schemes. Ministers are particularly keen that the benefits to the countryside which have already been achieved through Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs), Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS), Arable Stewardship (AS) & Habitat Schemes (HS) should be retained. Funds have been committed to launch a new scheme in 2005, subject to EU approval, which will replace the above agri-environment schemes. It will be called Environmental Stewardship and there will be three elements to it:
Entry Level Stewardship (ELS)
Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS)
Higher Level Stewardship (HLS)
Farmers, who want to move in to the Environmental Stewardship Scheme’s Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), must obtain a Farm Environment Plan (FEP) of their holding. A FEP is a whole farm assessment of all the environmental features on the farm, these include biodiversity, historic, woodland and landscape features. Surveyors / auditors preparing a FEP will also look at the value of existing public access and opportunities for genetic conservation (eg rare breeds), flood management and resource (soils and water). The FEP will clearly identify the environmental features that require management and their current condition, and will be used to help landowners decide on the most appropriate Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) management options for the farm.
The FEP Evaluation Requirement: Phase 2
Existing agreement holders, whose agreement is coming to an end, will be invited to apply for a Farm Environment Plan (FEP) in advance of the launch of Higher Level Stewardship in 2005. This gives Defra an opportunity to evaluate the FEP before the Environmental Stewardship Scheme is launched. In September 2004 regional RDS advisers will be training the surveyors / auditors who will be carrying out the 2004 FEPs. At these regional training courses auditors will be provided with an evaluation questionnaire along with a pre-paid envelope for return of the completed questionnaire to CSL. An analysis will be made, by the Contractor, of all those received by the end of December [note: may need to extend deadline if returns are slow as auditors have until October 2005 to complete their FEP, although they will be encouraged, through the training sessions, to complete them by March 2005]. More than one questionnaire is expected from organisations with regional representatives but only one questionnaire will be accepted per individual auditor. If the questionnaire is made available on Defraweb the address will be distributed at the training courses.
The objectives of phase 2 of the evaluation are:
· To evaluate, through a questionnaire, the 2004 auditors’ views on the FEP handbook (includes ERDP/FEP1 form and guidance booklet);
· To identify any suggestions, supported by evidence, for improvement which can be addressed through 2005 FEP training programme and, in the longer-term, when the FEP handbook is reviewed.
This phase of the project will involve an analysis of approximately 100 questionnaires received from 2004 auditors. Defra have prepared a questionnaire which will be distributed at the FEP training courses. Auditors are likely to be primarily Defra partners & stakeholders but will also include anyone nominated, by farmers, to carry out 2004 FEPs. As with phase 1 the evaluation will include an analysis of each section of the FEP handbook and identify any suggestions, supported by evidence, for improvement.