Ambitious plans which will see the majority of West Midlands farmers carrying out environmental schemes to enhance wildlife habitats and the landscape of the countryside were announced yesterday.
The Government is to plough £300 million into the new environmental project, which will give the public greater access to the countryside and boost habitats for declining species.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plans to recruit 70 per cent of farmers in the region to carry out environmental improvements in return for grants.
Currently 6,000 farmers take part in agrienvironmental schemes, covering 14 per cent of all land in the region.
Defra plans to significantly increase numbers under the new scheme, ensuring 500,000 hectares of land in the region is covered. Each farmer taking part will be paid £30 per hectare.
Features that will benefit include some of the region's most valuable habitats, such as orchards, hedgerows, woodland, grassland, wetlands, heathland and traditional meadows.
These habitats support species such as otter, lapwing, skylark, hedge sparrow, orchids and rare grasses, which will in turn benefit from the new initiative.
John Higgins, a sheep and arable farmer in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, said the new scheme would benefit both farmers and the public.
He said: "Farmers will probably be a lot happier about the way they farm and we shall get a bit of return back on it and hopefully we shall see a bit more wildlife.
"I think quite a lot of farmers will be interested in this because of the financial incentive."
Geoff Sansome, regional manager of Defra's Rural Development Service in the West Midlands, said the public would see changes in the region's landscape as a result of the scheme.
" Rather than neatly trimmed hedges, you are likely to see hedgerows cut every two or three years, which is quite a dramatic difference.
"It will also benefit farmland birds. The higher level of the scheme will also support voluntary access where farmers will have the opportunity to link up existing footpaths with permissive paths," he said.
The new scheme was launched at an event on the Severn Valley Railway yesterday.
More than 60 farmers, land managers and partners travelled 15 miles through the Severn Valley to see 5,000 hectares of land under environmental management.
Two other elements of the scheme features organic and 'higher level' components.
Organic entry level stewardship offers organic management options for land which is registered as fully organic, or in conversion to organic farming, and provides payments of up to £60 per hectare.
Higher level stewardship has been designed to target local environmental priorities and will build on entry level or organic entry level stewardship.