Agri-environment schemes (AES) are central to the conservation of Europe’s farmland biodiversity. The UK Government’s Public Service Agreement target seeks to reverse the decline of farmland birds in England by 2020 through the use of AES. The Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) scheme, introduced in 2005, is the first non-competitive, broad-uptake stewardship scheme designed to deliver simple but effective environmental management on farms throughout England. Approximately 5 million hectares of farmland are currently entered into Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreements, and given the scale of this investment it is important to verify the efficacy of ELS as a mechanism for delivering biodiversity benefits. We used spatially referenced ES agreement data to assess the influence of specific management options and combinations of options on farmland bird population changes between 2005 and 2008 derived from standardized surveys carried out on over 2000 lowland farmland 1-km squares in England. The results showed only limited evidence for short-term effects of ES. Only Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra and Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris showed some landscape-specific positive associations with area under ELS management. There was also limited evidence for positive associations between specific management options and the population changes of the species at which they were aimed. The current pattern of option uptake may be limiting benefits of ELS, with boundary management accounting for over 50% of scheme compensation value. However, the time required for option maturation and the time lags in bird population responses to environmental change mean that it is too early to reach definitive conclusions about the success or failure of the scheme. The findings of this study will assist in the development of ELS by feeding into the 5-year review scheduled for 2010 and have implications for the development of similar schemes elsewhere in Europe.