Making Environmental Stewardship More Effective (MESME): A Bad Deal for Upland Farmers

Controversy has arisen over Natural England’s launch of the “Making Environmental Stewardship More Effective” (MESME) initiative. Several new options are being introduced (mostly applicable only in the lowlands) and points available for low priority options are being reduced or their prescriptions are being made more demanding.

“Rather than providing the traditional support for agriculture in marginal hill areas, the emphasis seems to be a move back to an unimproved, less productive landscape. The environment will become more “natural” – what you see is what you get.” says David Morley, Environmental Advisor of H&H Land and Property.

“Upland farmers are likely to suffer as a result, and one immediately visible effect will be a halt to the rebuilding of stone walls that are characteristic of so much moorland and hill scenery, especially in Cumbria.”

MESME is a Defra-led project aiming to improve the delivery of environmental outcomes from Environmental Stewardship. New, apparently environmentally friendly choices have been introduced with the objective of steering farmers away from “low” priority options, such as hedgerow management and low fertiliser use, and towards “high” priority options, such as zero fertiliser options and management to benefit farmland birds.

These changes will take effect from 1st January 2013, so all ESA expiries will be affected. There are two changes in particular that could have a big impact on upland farms coming out of ESA agreements.

  1. The number of points being given for completing a Farm Environment Record, which is essential for making an application, is reduced from three points per hectare to one point.
  2. The criteria for including dry stone walls in the “Maintenance of Walls” option are being tightened.

David Morley of H&H Land and Property draws the following conclusions: “The first of these will make it much harder for large upland farms, and commons in particular, to reach their points target. Unlike lowlands areas, there are few alternative options to make up the shortfall. Where the land involved is also being entered into Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), the only solution will probably be to “underpin” HLS options – this means both HLS and Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) options would be located on the some piece of land.”

“Essentially this means that land management on the ground would be the same but the value of the agreement would be reduced by £2 per hectare across all moorland parcels.”

Under the second proposed change, walls will only be eligible for the maintenance ELS option if they are “complete” – i.e. full height along the whole length and with most of the original top stones still in place. This could render a lot of walls with short “bad” sections ineligible for the scheme, removing the incentive for farmers to maintain them.

David points out: “There is a real concern that this may lead to the deterioration of many walls that are an integral part of the upland landscape. It also risks undoing the good work completed under ESA agreements for the last 20 years, surely the opposite of what Natural England are intending with MESME.”

With regard to the cumulative effect of the new scheme, he is equally disappointed. “It is surprising that Natural England have not thought through the implication of these changes for upland farmers and commoners. Instead of making Environmental Stewardship more effective, they simply make it less attractive - and certainly more onerous.”


H&H Land and Property are leading Chartered Surveyors and Land Agents in the North. With offices in both Carlisle and Durham they provide a full range of professional services. For more information contact the Carlisle office on 01228 406 260 or Durham office 0191 370 8530.