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Throughout the past century, the British agricultural system has experienced considerable alterations in terms of management practices and attitudes to environmental protection. The most dramatic and influential changes occurred in the late 1940s, with post-war mechanisation. Following World War 2, concerns over food security grew, prompting the Government to encourage increased food production. Emphasis was placed upon the use of modern and intensive agricultural practices to increase output, resulting in enhanced mechanisation, expansion and intensification (Dobbs and Pretty, 2004).
However, a move to large scale agri-business resulted in profound and adverse effects on rural biodiversity and farmland habitats with the over-exploitation of their valuable resources. Habitats underwent considerable degradation, particularly with hedge removal to accommodate larger machinery, destroying highly beneficial food sources and breeding habitats for wildlife.
Additionally, technological advancements led to the widespread implementation of synthetic chemical herbicides and pesticides to increase yields, which resulted in severe detrimental effects to flora, fauna and water quality. Furthermore, the introduction of larger and more sophisticated agricultural machinery and tillage processes resulted in substantial reductions to soil quality, through compaction and erosion. With 75% of UK land classed as agricultural, cumulatively these detrimental effects sparked major concern (Montemayor et al., 2010).
1.2 The Rise of Modern Environmentalism
As a result of the widespread degradation of agricultural ecosystems during the post-war period, the advent of modern environmentalism in the 1970s and 1980s focused awareness on the importance of mitigating the adverse impacts of agricultural intensification. The publication of Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' in 1962 is thought to have been a major landmark in the emergence of environmental awareness (Dunlap, 2008). Carson highlighted the considerable detrimental side-effects of pesticide usage, particularly DDT. Concern was sparked amongst ecologists over the potential for bioaccumulation of DDT within ecosystems and its harmful reproductive impacts, particularly for birds. Doctors and the general population also feared the harmful consequences of indiscriminate DDT use, due to toxicity and carcinogenic effects (Carson, 1962). Thus, the publication of 'Silent Spring' instigated the modern environmental movement, and people became more aware of the problems faced within the agricultural sector.
1.3 The Common Agricultural Policy
The European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) provides agricultural subsidies to member states in order to promote sustainable agriculture (European Commission, 2010). The CAP is made up of 2 pillars; pillar 1 encompasses market support measures and direct payments for meeting cross-compliance standards primarily for the environment, food safety and animal welfare. Pillar 2 however is focussed upon rural development programmes (House of Lords, 2005). The early CAP of the 1950s was focussed upon pillar 1 measures, for increasing self-sufficiency through the provision of incentives to farmers in order to encourage greater productivity.
However, with the rise of modern environmentalism, the agricultural emphasis shifted towards environmental sustainability, causing a bifurcation of the role of land managers with the requirement to not only provide agricultural efficiency, but also to incorporate environmental protection (ref). With increasing emphasis on environmental preservation, and a realisation of the potential of agro-ecological processes, the United Kingdom introduced the first agri-environmental scheme in 1987, named the Environmentally Sensitive Areas scheme (ESA). This was superseded by the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) in 1991 which was a result of the major CAP reforms of the 1990s, aimed at providing for the changing needs of both the agricultural sector and the wider community (Natural England). Figure 1.1 clearly illustrates the changes to UK agri-environment schemes which took place between 1973 and 2000, highlighting the significant alterations to agricultural priorities.
Figure 1.1: Changes in UK agri-environment scheme subsidies from 1973 - 2000 (source: Price, 2003, p.122).
Since then, the requirement to mitigate climate change has been increasingly recognised, in order to limit soil and water degradation and to curb the loss of biodiversity. Whilst direct pillar 1 subsidy payments still exist under the Single Farm Payment Scheme, emphasis has been shifted to pillar 2 policies; redesigned to not only halt environmental damage, but enhance the agricultural landscape through the promotion of more sustainable farming practices that will create a natural environment that is better suited to withstand the impacts of climatic change.
1.4 Environmental Stewardship
The Environmental Stewardship (ES) scheme was introduced in 2005, as a means to compensate farmers for providing specific environmental standards that go beyond the cross-compliance criterion of the CAP. ES schemes are administered for the government's Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) by Natural England, and are a key component of the European Union funded Rural Development Programme for England 2007-2013, bringing together the previous CSS and ESA schemes (Natural England).
As custodians and stewards of the rural landscape, farmers have an intuitive ethical obligation to preserve and enrich farmland ecosystems; however this is often not realistic in terms of financial viability (ref). With the major challenges posed by climate change, and subsequent food security issues, it has become increasingly important that funding and guidance is made available for farmers and land managers. This enables the delivery of effective environmental protection, whilst maintaining prime agricultural land, to enhance the contribution of agriculture to climate change mitigation through decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and improving soil carbon sequestration (Natural England).
Environmental Stewardship schemes are currently the primary source of monetary incentives, consisting of Entry Level Stewardship (ELS), Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) and Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (UELS). It is recognised that small scale farmers must remain the focus of such initiatives, explaining the need for 4 different multi-objective schemes.
The main objectives of Environmental Stewardship are to:
maintain and enhance landscape quality
protect the historic environment
promote public understanding and access
protect natural soil and water resources
(Natural England, 2010) ELS handbook)
This study will focus only upon ELS and HLS; explained in the following sections.
1.4.1 Entry Level Stewardship
The ELS scheme is a 5 year agreement, open to all land managers in England, and offers a wide range of options for simple yet effective environmental management. 30 points per hectare must be chosen from over 50 options, in order to receive a payment of £30 per hectare per year. Management options include the use of buffer strips, mixed stocking, cover crops, crop rotation and watercourse fencing (Natural England ELS handbook). ELS is a broad and shallow, high uptake approach with environmental requirements that are relatively easy to meet without significantly altering management practices.
1.4.2 Higher Level Stewardship
HLS usually builds upon ELS, OELS or UELS, offering a higher tiered management scheme. It is more complex and demanding, requiring considerably greater input, which is reflected in the higher compensation payments for management input and capital works. Emphasis is placed upon specialised land management to provide significant environmental gain in high priority areas. HLS agreements last for 10 years, and are a competitive and discretionary, narrow and deep approach with a lower application success rate. In addition to the enhancement of ELS objectives, HLS provides opportunities for improving public access and conducting educational visits (Natural England: HLS handbook 2010).
This research project aims to provide an original insight into the effectiveness of the Environmental Stewardship scheme. While other studies focus upon the motives of participants and the obstacles that limit participation, this investigation will address an underexplored, yet highly relevant topic which relates not only to agricultural practices, but to wider environmental and anthropogenic climate change concerns that remain at the forefront of current debates.
1.6 Research Questions
This investigation aims to specifically address the following research questions:
Are the ecological benefits to flora and fauna substantially better under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme when compared to the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme?
Is there a marked enhancement of vegetation species richness under HLS when compared to ELS?
Is water quality and thus aquatic species diversity enhanced under HLS?
Does macrolepidoptera abundance and composition exhibit
substantial enhancement under higher tiered management
Are soil characteristics significantly altered under different management tiers?
2. Overall, is Environmental Stewardship an effective way to manage the
rural landscape, and can the high financial input required be considered
cost effective in terms of the environmental return?
To facilitate the examination of the aims and research questions the following objectives will be used:
1. Identify 4 appropriate study sites; 2 ELS and 2 HLS managed farms in South
Devon on which the necessary research can be conducted.
2. Undertake macroinvertebrate, soil, vegetation and macrolepidoptera
sampling at each study site.
3. Identify all species observed and collate data obtained from each location.
4. Process data using appropriate graphical and statistical techniques.
5. Discuss the results that are obtained in order to gain a reasoned and
representative evaluation of the effectiveness of the different Environmental
Stewardship management tiers.
In order to fulfil these objectives, a literature review will be undertaken to provide further insight into the topic, and inform the data collection, analysis and discussion chapters.