Farmers and land managers are being urged to get their mid-tier Countryside Stewardship applications in well before the deadline on 30 September, to secure five years’ worth of potential payments.
According to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), some doubts remain about the future funding of the scheme.
Despite the recent Treasury announcement that “agreements signed before the Autumn Statement will be fully funded”, there is still a risk that, even if applications are lodged in time, delays to processing them could mean they are not actually signed before the window closes.
Mid-tier Countryside Stewardship
- Aimed at wildlife diversity and water quality, but also covering flood management, historic features, landscape and education
- Payments wide-ranging, including £95/ha for low input grassland, £420/ha for protection of in-field trees and £640/ha for wild bird seed mixes
- Average payments estimated at £13,400/year for higher-tier schemes and £6,000/year for mid-tier
- Application forms must be requested by the end of August, and returned by the end of September
- The application process is “competitive”, but last year 90% of applications were successful
- One-to-one advice meetings are available in all areas of England on request via Natural England
The CLA says it expects the Treasury to be “pragmatic” in this regard, but is still encouraging its members to submit their applications “in good time”.
“The environmental outcomes that will be delivered under these schemes are too important to be lost,” said CLA president Ross Murray.
Furthermore, the CLA is seeking reassurance that the government will continue to offer and finance new Countryside Stewardship contracts beyond 2017 – in keeping with its stated priorities.
It is urging its members to submit applications for 2017, to send a clear message to government that these schemes are valued.
“By pressing on with applications for programmes of work under next year’s scheme, land managers will very clearly demonstrate their appetite for delivering this crucial work to government,” said Mr Murray.
These views are shared by the NFU, which met Defra last week to discuss rural development.
Chief economist Andrew Francis said Defra was keen to encourage prompt applications for 2017, but could see no reason why they would be rejected if not agreed and signed by the Autumn Statement.
As for future schemes, he said the Treasury was due to make an announcement on this ahead of the Autumn Statement, expected at the end of November.
“While this does seem somewhat vague, Defra has at least hinted that it does see some form of funding put in place for the coming years prior to Brexit,” said Mr Francis.