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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March 2005, 14:08 GMT
Scheme to reward 'green' farmers
Farmland, BBC
Farmers will earn money for looking after hedgerows to provide habitat for birds
Farmers will be rewarded for protecting the environment under a new initiative launched by the government on Thursday.

The Environmental Stewardship Scheme allows every farmer in England to earn payments for making their land more hospitable to wildlife.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says it will mark a "watershed" in English farming.

"It is the biggest change to farming for a generation," a government minister said on Thursday.

Frogs and newts

Farmers will earn money for work such as looking after hedgerows to provide habitat for birds and small mammals, creating wildflower plots for bees and other insects on set-aside arable land, and protecting ponds from pesticides and fertilisers to encourage wildlife such as frogs and newts.

This work will help reduce the decline in wild bird populations, cut pollution and increase all forms of wildlife on farms.

We call on farmers to rise to the new challenge of restoring birdsong to the countryside
Graham Wynne, RSPB
The change is a key part of the government's Sustainable Strategy for Farming and Food, announced two years ago by Sir Don Curry.

The Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said Entry Level Stewardship would enable farmers to earn up to 30 per hectare for delivering "straightforward yet effective" work that benefits wildlife.

"This is a real red letter day for English farming," Mrs Beckett said. "Every farmer can now be rewarded for protecting and enhancing the environment.

"With the wider Common Agricultural Policy reforms, we are making good progress towards ensuring farming is sustainable."

The RSPB also welcomed the move, saying the English countryside "will now change for the better".

"Intensive farming has wreaked havoc with many of our best loved countryside birds," said Graham Wynne, the RSPB's chief executive.

"The skylark, yellowhammer, turtle dove, corn bunting and grey partridge all rely on farmland to survive, but none of these can compete with the efficiency of modern farming.

"We call on farmers to rise to the new challenge of restoring birdsong to the countryside."

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