What is an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA)?

An Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) is a type of designation for an agricultural area which needs special protection because of its landscape, wildlife or historical value. The scheme was introduced in 1987.

Originally it was administered by Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, then the Rural Development Service for the United Kingdom Governments Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and currently Natural England, following successive re-organisation of the departments. In 2005 the scheme was superseded by the Environmental Stewardship and closed to new entrants. Existing agreements remained active until their expiration, meaning the designation remained active until 2014.

Farmers entered into a 10-year contract with the government and received an annual payment for the area that is part of the scheme. Farmers were expected to adopt environmentally friendly agricultural practices.

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