Bees are at the heart of new farm payment scheme, says Defra minister Elizabeth Truss

First day at the Royal Norfolk Show. Defra secretary Elizabeth Truss visits the Norfolk Beekeepers A

First day at the Royal Norfolk Show. Defra secretary Elizabeth Truss visits the Norfolk Beekeepers Association. Photo: Steve Adams

The economic importance of bees for pollinating East Anglia's crops will be put at the heart of a new payment scheme designed to reward wildlife-friendly farming.

Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss made the announcement at the Norfolk Beekeepers Association's stand during the first day of the Royal Norfolk Show.

The cabinet minister's visit coincided with the opening day of applications for the government's £900m Countryside Stewardship scheme, which will pay farmers, landowners and foresters for work which protects wildlife habitats and sources of nectar and pollen.

Bees and pollinators are one of five main priorities for the scheme which, unlike the previous schemes which it replaces, is being run on a competitive basis, with points awarded to those who make the biggest improvements on their land.

Work could include providing year-round food, shelter and nesting places which wild pollinators, birds and other farm wildlife need to survive, sowing nectar flower and winter bird food mixes, or increasing flower resources on grassland and field margins.

Ms Truss, also the MP for South West Norfolk, said: 'This is the first ever countryside stewardship scheme that specifically combines help for bees and pollinators as well as wildlife, woodland and rivers.

'This will mean more margins and meadows with colourful wildflowers in our countryside. Productive farming goes hand in hand with improving the environment.

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'We know that bees contribute £430m to the economy in terms of the pollination services that they provide. We have seen a decline in the number of species, and that is why we are launching this scheme to help them.'

Although the scheme formally opened for applications today, concerns have been raised in the farming industry about the availability of online information and application packs, with the detailed guidance manual for the scheme only published last week.

Ms Truss said the application packs are now available on the Natural England website, and that more information would be following shortly.

Carolyne Liston, chairman of the Norfolk Beekeepers' Association, said: 'I think this is a step in the right direction. We have not seen all the details, but I think how successful it is will depend on what is planted, how much is planted, and how long the scheme runs for.

'There is a section in there about hedgerows, but if that money is withdrawn in two years those hedgerows won't have been established. The countryside is a very beautiful rural factory, and farmers will only plant these things if the money is there to do it.'