Field margin buffer strip©FLPA/Rex

Vital details are still missing for the government’s new Countryside Stewardship scheme, which is replacing entry- and higher-level environmental stewardship (ELS and HLS).

Annual applications for Countryside Stewardship are due to open for three months starting in July. But NFU policy director Andrew Clark said: “There are actually some very significant things we still don’t know about the scheme.”

Some £900m is available for countryside stewardship. The scheme has three strands – a higher-level tier, a middle tier and a tier to promote capital works on farms. But Mr Clark said: “We don’t know the allocation of funding between the various tiers.”

See also: Defra outlines new Countryside Stewardship scheme

Mr Clark said the NFU was calling for more money to be allocated to the lower tiers, because this would mean more farmers would benefit. But the union was also concerned that there would be little guidance available before July, when applications opened.

It took about six months to put together an application for the old HLS scheme, said Mr Clark. This meant farmers applying for countryside stewardship would have their work cut out when applications opened. “In a sense, it means you won’t know what you are applying for.”

Information about the various scheme options were also short on detail, said Mr Clark. Taking hedgerow boundary management as an example, he said: “We know the headline, we know how much is being paid, but we don’t know what farmers are actually being asked to do for that.”

He added: “There is no paper-based approach to this scheme, so in a sense it has the same problems we’ve got with the Basic Payment Scheme online. But it will be using the same data, so if you’ve registered for BPS you can then move on to the countryside stewardship element.”