21 November 2019
Agroforestry event in Melton Mowbray

A Win Win for Farm productivity and the Environment

3 December 2019
iSAGE training course and workshop

Innovations to improve sustainability in the sheep and goat sector

4 November 2019
Calling all UK Sheep farmers!

Survey on breed distribution and management

31 October 2019
Proceedings of the European Conference on Crop Diversification

Abstracts, presentations and workshop reports now online

21 March 2019
In adversity, what are farmers doing to be more resilient?

Opportunities, barriers and constraints in organic techniques helping to improve the sustainability of conventional farming

OELS/OHLS new options in 2013

Several changes have been made to the English Environmental Stewardship scheme with some options downgraded, others improved and some new ones of high relevance to organic producers. This session will explore the changes and the opportunities for OELS and OHLS participants.
Peter Melchett (Soil Association): Chair

Session Summary

Concerns about the lack of effectiveness of the Environmental Stewardship scheme in England led to the Making Environmental Stewardship More Effective (MESME) project which aimed to improve the delivery of environmental outcomes of the scheme. A mismatch between option uptake and biodiversity needs resulted in modification of existing options and the introduction of new options.

Steve Bellingham from Natural England introduced the changes to the scheme. Joy Greenall (on behalf of Alison Smyth) explored how the OELS options can be used creatively on organic farms to improve the system.

Caroline Corsie, farm manager of Lower Smite Farm for Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, illustrated the challenges and benefits of having ELS, OELS and HLS on the farm.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points and actions:

  •  When used creatively, OELS can be used to improve the organic system by enhancing functional biodiversity and reducing soil erosion and water run-off
  • Two of the new OELS options are useful for organic farmers – adding wildflowers to buffer strips and establishing legume and herb rich swards 
  • Other new options have obviously been developed for conventional farmers and should be adapted for organic farmers – e.g. overwintered stubbles should include green cover; and the ryegrass seed set option should be expanded to include grasses in general.
  • There is an urgent need to develop specific organic options in the future ES to increase the effectiveness of the scheme in delivering public benefits.

Speaker presentations and abstracts

Steve Bellingham (Natural England): Overview of the scheme changes (300KB)

In January 2013 several changes were made to Environmental Stewardship. They are primarily changes to Entry Level Stewardship and Organic Entry Level Stewardship. These include the introduction of five new options, rebalancing of option points and some changes to prescriptions. Why have these changes come about? Research and monitoring has identified that ELS in particular was not delivering the level of environmental benefits possible. Several studies, plus stakeholder consultation identified particular options that needed to be modified to deliver more. A range of means for improving effectiveness, for example re-balancing points between options were looked at. Ministerial approval led to these changes. These changes affect all ELS, OELS, HLS and OHLS agreements which start on 1st January 2013 or later. Four of the new options can also be included into existing agreements. We will cover the reasons for the changes to the schemes, the changes themselves and how to amend existing agreements.

Alison Smyth (Abacus): Making use of the new options creatively to support your organic system

Alison was unable to make the conference due to the weather.

The Organic Entry Level Scheme (OELS) has been tweeked! Essentially it’s the same scheme we’ve all come to know but the changes are significant, particularly if your OELS agreement is coming up for renewal or you are entering for the first time having recently come out of a ‘Classic Scheme’ such as ESA or CSS. Designed to be simple for farmers to enter, OELS started with various objectives which resulted in a handbook nearly an inch thick. Over the years the scheme has had a number of incarnations to refine the objectives and develop the management prescriptions. However this fourth edition handbook is now much more weighted towards delivering biodiversity benefits. There are new options; point changes – some have gone up and some have gone down. There is guidance on priority options for your local area and numerous options that can assist the organic farmer in developing a sound, living, balanced farmed environment.

Caroline Corsie (Lower Smite Farm): What’s the wildlife benefit and impact on my management regimes? (250KB)

Lower Smite Farm, owned by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust is a 65ha mixed arable livestock farm. The entire holding has been is in an OELS/ELS/HLS agreement since 2010. The farm has 5 UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority habitats and 15 BAP species including brown hare, skylark, great crested newt and brown long-eared bats. Rebuilding soil health is seen as fundamental to restoring wildlife populations. Over half the farm is now in the second year of full organic management producing a range of hay, forage (from various temporary green manures) and cereals. There are newly planted soft fruit and lavender beds and a recently launched Hereford beef box scheme in partnership with a grazier. The farm is pre-paring to dovetail in new agri-environment options into the existing rotation, including: supplementary feeding of farmland birds (OF23); temporary legume and herb rich swards (OK21 by over-seeding); ryegrass seed-set for winter/spring bird food (OK20) and the new hedgerow restoration option (OB14).