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Take advantage of crucial funding now in preparation for the future

Wed 26 February 2020

Since 2018, and most certainly since we left the EU on 31st January 2020, the Agriculture Bill has been at the fore front of our minds; however the proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs), detailed within the bill and designed to replace direct payments to farmers for the total amount of land farmed, is not to be introduced until 2024 at the earliest (unless your business manages to take part in a national pilot). Therefore, particularly during the transition period of up to 31st December 2020, it is business as usual for the BPS 2020 applications and all existing stewardship agreements.

The 2020 BPS application (opens 12th March) will almost certainly follow the same rules as 2019.

The ELMs proposal involves farmers and landowners being paid for improvements that they make to the local environment. The existing Countryside Stewardship Scheme provides a natural steppingstone towards these environmental motivated payments as it concentrates on improving the local environment through methods such as restoring wildlife habitats and creating woodlands, through to managing flood risk and complex land management.

The options available under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme will provide certainty of income during the transition period; in order to encourage applications, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has confirmed that Countryside Stewardship agreements may be terminated early, and without penalty, if a farmer would prefer to enter into a new ELM scheme when they are released.

James Thompson, Associate at youngsRPS, summarises the Countryside Stewardship opportunities which are available to farmers and land managers across England now.

Hedgerow and Boundary Grant
This is a capital grant (of up to £10,000) to fund works such as:

  • hedgerow gapping up
  • laying stone wall
  • embankment restoration

This is available to all farmers if the land parcel is not involved in another stewardship agreement.

Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship
There are limited opportunities for new Higher Tier agreements as Natural England and the RPA are selective on where new agreements are to be placed to ensure they are providing the required environmental benefits.

Existing Higher-Level Stewardship schemes which are expiring this year, and are meeting the required criteria, are being offered extensions. It is likely that the RPA will continue to issue annual extensions until ELMs are introduced.

Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship
The application process for this five-year agreement is competitive. 

There are a range of land and capital options including hedge and tree planting as well as fencing and water quality capital options including manure stores and concrete yard renewal (subject to meeting the qualifying criteria)

Due to the historically low number of applications for Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship, money is available, most applicants have received an agreement offer.

Mid-Tier Water Quality Capital Items
This competitive application process is for a two-year agreement with a value of up to £10,000. 

There are a range of capital items available such as concrete yard renewal, manure stores and sprayer wash down areas. However, it requires for the land parcels to be located within a high priority water quality area alongside written support from the local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer.

Countryside Stewardship Wildlife Offers
These offers are designed to help farmers and land managers protect wildlife and preserve the natural environment. If you meet the requirements of this scheme, you are guaranteed to enter a five-year agreement. There are four offers available:

  • Arable
  • Lowland Grazing
  • Mixed Farming
  • Upland

Each of the above offers has three levels of options with a minimum requirement to meet for each.

The Arable offer can work particularly well for farms with awkward field corners, or those that are struggling with their break crop. Options such as Nectar Flower Mix (£511 per ha), Winter Bird Mix (£640 per ha) and Enhanced Overwinter Stubble (£436 per ha) can be included in the agreement.

To avoid double funding, it is important to note that Countryside Stewardship and HLS extension parcel-based options cannot be located on the same area of land as EFA fallow or EFA buffer strips. Careful consideration of your BPS EFA and Countryside Stewardship requirements, and their interplay, is required annually. This can be a complicated and time-consuming process; however, our team of rural funding experts are on hand to help you. If you would like to discuss the options available to your business this year, please get in touch with your local agent.

For the contact details of your local branch, please click here