It is widely recognised that the provision of good quality advice and support can help to ensure that option choices are appropriate, and improve the agreement holder’s understanding of what is required, potentially improving achievement of outcomes. In response to recommendations from the Making Environmental Stewardship More Effective (MESME) project, NE has developed new guidance for the development and operational delivery of HLS agreements.

This has been in place since February 2013 and NE carried out a desk based quality assurance (QA) exercise on new agreements to test its implementation. This project was set up to complement and support the NE internal QA exercise, providing information on the quality of agreement set up and the agreement holders’ understanding of their agreement in order to inform delivery of agri-environment schemes under the next Rural Development Programme. The work was carried out by the Food and Environment Research Agency, Countryside and Community Research Institute, ADAS UK Ltd and Environment Systems Ltd

The project objectives were to provide an assessment of:

• the appropriateness of option placement, intended agreement outcomes and management prescriptions, given the physical assets of the holding and the local targeting objectives,

• agreement holder understanding of, engagement with and attitude towards agreement requirements, intended outcomes and prescriptions,

• the quality of agreement establishment as a foundation for future delivery,

• the impact of agreement holder understanding and engagement and quality of agreement establishment on the potential to achieve agreement outcomes.

These objectives were achieved through a combination of interviews with agreement holders, field assessments and a remote sensing activity to evaluate the quality of agreement set-up. A total of 102 agreements initiated in 2013 were assessed, sampled from across the English regions.

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