Isabel DaviesIsabel Davies

This year’s BPS forms took almost 10 hours to complete if you add together the reading, form-filling and brief forays down the farm with a measuring wheel to check out a few things, writes Isabel Davies.

My advice if you haven’t yet started, is to get on with it quickly.

The worrying thing is the form I completed was a straightforward claim, with only a few extra features that needed mapping. I can’t imagine how long it must take for a larger farm or for someone using lots of hedges or buffer strips to fulfil their 5% Ecological Focus Area requirement.

My conclusions:

1. Going back to paper after using the RPA’s old online system in previous years is a painful experience. The old online SPS system was quick and easy to use. The paper version is long and has none of the automatic checks and balances built in. If you make an error, only you are going to pick it up. If the RPA can get its online system working properly in 2016 it will be a big relief.

See also: Almost 1,000 farmers miss BPS deadline in Wales

2. You need to read the guidance booklets (or at least a chunk of them) before you start and that can take a couple of hours, as there are so many of them to get through. There are some useful working examples included, but be warned it will still take you ages to find the references you want when you need them.

3. Prepare to be baffled by the codes and spend at least half an hour flicking from page to page trying to find the one you need. Amazingly, if it isn’t on the lists printed in the guidance notes there seems to be an even longer list online. We’d all got used to the old codes, but now it is a murky world of AC63, AC66 and NA01. There’s little logic to the letters chosen to represent each crop type, so they are impossible to remember.

4. The RPA is going to be wading through thousands upon thousands of sketch maps and RLE1 forms. In previous years, rightly or wrongly, people tended to just knock off any unmapped ineligible features when it came to the area claimed. This year the agency is insisting on having every Permanent Ineligible Feature (PIF) mapped. It takes time to do it. How long is it going to take the RPA to process all the forms?

5. The guidance notes for RLE1 forms are great in some places, but poor in others. For example, the worked examples showing how to amalgamate fields or add an ineligible feature are very clear. But the page which tries to show you how to calculate a new field number is confusing. Why show how to do it on a 1:10,000 and 1:2,500 map when people have the RPA’s own maps in front of them. Why not make it easy to do it from those?

How have you found the experience of filling out your BPS form? Is there a part that has particularly confused you? Share your experiences by commenting or by emailing philip.case@rbi.co.uk