An investigation into the uptake and farmer acceptance of the Countryside Steward Scheme in Southern England
Increasingly farmers are being required to re-evaluate their role in relation to the conservation of wildlife habitats and landscape features on agricultural land. For many this challenges their construction of themselves as 'farmers', whose role is determined by their ability to harness the natural resources of the land and manage those resources to produce food. For many years this interpretation of their role was reinforced by government policies which encouraged the process of agricultural industrialisation. While many farmers still see themselves as 'stewards' of countryside, this stewardship has often been restricted to small areas of the farm, while the 'real' business of the farm continued to intensify. When the Countryside Stewardship Scheme was introduced in 1991, in response to EEC Regulation 2078/92/EEC, it represented a new type of funding scheme, one which required farmers to actively manage their land for conservation. Entry into CSS was not determined by dint of geographical location, and could only be attained by entering into a competitive 'bidding' process. For many farmers, the concept of being paid a grant to produce 'environmental goods' on agricultural land was completely alien. This thesis investigates a wide range of factors that can potentially influence a farmer's ability and willingness to adopt CSS. In addition to exploring the opportunities and constraints on adoption imposed by the farm business and farm household, the thesis explores the 'information environment' of the 112 farmer interviewees. The findings detailed in this thesis show that networks of institutional actors have developed around the promotion of CSS to farmers identified as having specific target habitats on their land. This thesis demonstrates that the availability of information and advice is a potentially powerful determinant of CSS adoption, whether the source of that information is institutional networks other influential local farmers who have adopted CSS.