Wild flowers growing on field margin © Tim Scrivener© Tim Scrivener

Farmers and landowners signed up to a Countryside Stewardship agreement, either now or in the near future, must not be left at a disadvantage should a better scheme be introduced after Brexit.

That is the main thrust of a letter sent by eight farming and environmental organisations to Defra secretary Michael Gove.

They are concerned that, unless farmers are given sufficient flexibility to move to a new scheme, or at least be offered equivalent payment, then they could be discriminated against.

See also: Defra outlines details of new Countryside Stewardship Scheme

The government has already pledged to maintain existing funding levels on all Countryside Stewardship schemes entered into before the UK leaves the European Union in 2019.

And earlier this month Defra set out details of a streamlined Countryside Stewardship scheme for 2018, which is intended to attract more people to apply.

But the expectation is that, post Brexit, a simpler and more effective environmental scheme will be introduced – and it may even pay more.

Holding back

As such, the eight organisations believe farmers are holding back from joining the current Countryside Stewardship scheme in England because they don’t want to make a five-year commitment now and so limit their ability to access improved schemes in future.

“Defra ministers have highlighted improving the implementation of agricultural policy and agri-environment schemes as a priority when the UK leaves the EU,” says the letter.

“There is an expectation among farmers and land managers that future schemes will be a more attractive proposition than current schemes.”

This, says the group, presents a short-term risk, threatening to suppress engagement with the scheme. “It also undermines the recent, welcome changes to Countryside Stewardship.”

Although the letter does not specify what exactly needs to be done, a spokesman suggested Defra needed to offer things such as get-out clauses for existing Countryside Stewardship members, payment increases if the new schemes pay more and the ability to shift to new options if any become available.

Who has signed the letter?

  • Country Land and Business Association
  • NFU
  • Tenant Farmers Association
  • Central Association of Agricultural Valuers
  • RSPB England
  • National Trust
  • Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group
  • the Wildlife Trusts
  • Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust