Sir, - I hope I can provide some reassurance to Giles Manners who wrote to you (D&S, Mar 21)expressing concerns about Defra agri-environment schemes and in particular whether the new Entry Level Pilot Scheme will benefit wildlife.

This scheme has been developed in close consultation with English Nature, RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and numerous other environmental bodies as well as with farmer organisations. Our aim has been a scheme incorporating the best ideas from all partners, which will deliver environmental benefits and at the same time prove simple and attractive to farmers.

The Entry Level pilot includes a wide range of wildlife-friendly options including hedge and woodland management, creation of buffer strips and uncultivated headlands, planting of food crops for insects and wild birds, over wintered stubbles and low intensity grassland. There is good scientific evidence that these options can bring real gains for wildlife.

However the new Entry Level is only one of two new schemes being developed. Our plan is to back it up with a new "higher tier" scheme which will replace the existing Countryside Stewardship and Environmentally Sensitive Area Schemes. This higher tier scheme will include additional payments for more demanding environmental management options. We proposed in our latest consultation document on the new schemes that entry into this higher tier scheme will require production of a detailed environmental audit of the kind favoured by Mr Manners.

If the Entry Level pilot scheme proves as successful as we hope, the plan is to launch it nationally in 2005, simultaneously with the new higher tier scheme. Together these two new schemes offer the prospect of bringing a higher proportion of farmland under agri-environment agreements than seemed possible just a few years ago.

Turning this vision into a reality will require the good will and co-operation of farmers and land managers. It will also depend on the efforts of a range of Government bodies, partner organisations and consultants such as Mr Manners. I hope that all of these groups will be actively involved in promoting the new schemes. That can only be of benefit both to wildlife and to the future of our farmers.


Rural Development Service.



Damaged pasture

Sir, - The village of Coxwold which lies in the North York Moors National Park has had the added local amenity of the town pasture, a large ancient ridge and furrow grass field which was unspoiled grassland with many types of grasses and herbs.

This field has three public footpaths across it and was a regular walk for villagers and visitors. The field had been sympathetically farmed over a number of years and mainly grazed with sheep, with cattle in the summer only.

Sadly this all changed. This last winter a very large herd of suckler cows was grazed on the town pasture all winter. The cattle turned the field into a sea of mud, the very large tractors bringing feed to the cattle created enormous ruts over a foot deep. The public footpaths were impossible to walk as the ground was too dangerous to walk, effectively closing those footpaths as if they had been obstructed.

Even worse the grassland that had evolved over more than 100 years was irreparably destroyed. You can't recreate ancient grassland by reseeding, it has to create itself. It may, if carefully farmed, repair itself in about ten years or more.

This field is owned by the Newburgh Estate which has a very good record of conservation .A large number of local farmers are taking advantage of grants to plant hedges ,woods and repair stone walls. The Country Stewardship Scheme is specifically targeted for the preservation of ancient grassland.

When the farming community is trying so hard to improve its image, why has this happened?

There is no quick fix. The recent power harrowing and rolling may have restored the surface of the field but that is all.




Brilliant idea

Sir, - I have read (D&S, March 21)about the plan to turn the community centre at Middleton St George into a shop. What a brilliant idea. Do hope this gets all the help it can to get off the ground.

To be able to get fresh meat from the corner shop as we did when Peter's shop was open and to have a cafe close by where one can go for a coffee is something I have been hoping for.

This is a better alternative to the land being used for houses or flats. We don't need a park as we have the playing field refurbished.


Killinghall Row,

Middleton St George.