Countryside Stewardship Scheme launch

With the launch of the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme imminent, Tom Wills examines what is currently known about this important new scheme.

Monday, the 15th June, is a pretty big date in the farming calendar this year. Not only does it mark the deadline for the submission of Basic Payment Scheme claims, and also claims for annual payments under forestry schemes, but it also sees the launch of the new Agri-Environment Scheme. Perhaps I should qualify that statement with “should see the launch ….” this being a Defra scheme!

Strangely, with the launch nearly upon us, we do not know the full details of the scheme, and there are still some pretty large grey areas. We do know that it will be called the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and that it will be open for applicants this year. The Higher Tier (HT) element of the scheme effectively replaces HLS. Natural England will invite a number of farmers to submit an Expression of Interest. Others can also do so if they so wish. These EoIs will be judged competitively and those that score the highest will be invited to apply for a scheme.

Natural England should send out the EoIs next week, but be aware that they must be returned by the end of this month. The application window for the Higher and Middle Tiers will be 1st July – 30th Sept, with all schemes beginning on 1st January. It is worth noting that payments will be made annually in arrears. It is not yet clear whether this will be “on” or “from” 1st January. Either way, cash flow problems may arise.

There can only be one agri-environment scheme, old or new, running on a single holding. There are no HLS agreements terminating in 2015. They can be terminated early, but that seems unlikely to happen. Thus, it would seem that there will not be all that many suitable applicants for the HT this year.

ELS agreements cannot be terminated early. However, there are over 700 due to terminate in the North East in 2015. It is these farmers who will most likely be applying for the Middle Tier (MT). This level will also be competitive, but there is no indication as to how competitive it will actually be.

The new schemes will be “field based” rather than “farm based”. Therefore, decisions will need to be made as to whether to go for a HT on a small area, or a MT over a wider area. It may be necessary to apply for both, as a failed HT application will not automatically become a MT application. It is not yet clear how the woodland element of the scheme will interact with the Higher and Middle Tiers.

Like all new large and complicated land management schemes, it is unlikely to be as rewarding as what has gone before and there are bound to be unforeseen difficulties and frustrations. On the bright side, at least it is finally about to open.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.

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