HLS - still open for business - Natural England

NATURAL England has reassured farmers that the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme is still open for business and urged them to apply to the scheme as normal.

However budgetary constraints mean applications will not receive a start date until April 2011 at the earliest.

A spokesman said: “HLS is not suspended – it remains open for business and farmers are encouraged to continue applying.”

But a reduction in this year’s £57 million HLS budget means there is not enough money to pay new entrants until the next financial year, which begins April 2011.

The HLS budget for next year, however, will increase to £84 million and that figure is set to rise 83 per cent to £154 million by 2015.

Caroline Spelman, Secretary, described the increase as ‘a great success story’.

There are currently around 6,000 HLS agreements but the gradual closure of the Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) scheme, which currently has around 6,500 agreements, and the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which has around 10,000 agreements, will see a migration of money and farmers into HLS.

Mrs Spelman said there would also be enough money in the budget to push Entry Level Stewardship schemes to meet Defra’s 70 per cent uptake target.

To read a letter from Liz Newton, Director, Natural England, North West Region click here