Business Clinic: Should I consider Countryside Stewardship?

Whether you have a legal, tax, insurance, management or land issue, Farmers Weekly’s Business Clinic experts can help. Here, Savills’ Henry Barringer advises on Countryside Stewardship.

Q. My higher-level stewardship scheme expired two years ago. Countryside Stewardship (CS) was complicated and received lots of negative press when it was released. We decided at the time not to renew. Should I now be reconsidering, given the direction of travel we appear to be heading in?

A. Now is a sensible time to have another look at Countryside Stewardship.

Having completed a number of mid-tier scheme applications over the years, I couldn’t agree more that the application process was overly complicated, the amount of supporting evidence required was onerous, and when you received an application pack it was hard to decipher.

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Henry-BarringerHenry Barringer

However, when you look past this, some of the option payment rates Natural England is offering are very attractive.

Defra has recently released four new simplified ways of entering the scheme. There are packages for arable, pastoral, mixed and upland farms. These schemes are non-competitive, providing you meet the minimum requirements.

If we look at the arable scheme, the minimum requirements are 1ha of nectar mix or flower-rich margins/plots and 2ha of winter bird food for every 100ha of farmed land. Having come out of HLS, it is likely that you already have experience of establishing these options, aimed at farmland birds and pollinators.

The payment rates have increased significantly from the HLS rates. The HF12 (enhanced wild bird seed mix) was paid at £475/ha. The equivalent winter bird food rate is £640/ha, with the added option of supplementary winter feeding (AB12) at £632/t for every 2ha of winter bird food.

Options such as hedge management, 4-6m margins, skylark plots and cultivated plots for arable plants can be bolted onto the core options listed above.

Mid-tier and higher-tier schemes will still be available for more complicated applications – for example, where historic, wet grassland or organic options are required.

In his recent speech, Michael Gove announced the government will continue support for Countryside Stewardship agreements entered into prior to our departure from the EU. Assurance was also given that farmers will not be unfairly disadvantaged when the transition is made into new arrangements in the future.

This uncertainty of how CS will be viewed in future has undoubtedly discouraged some farmers from applying in the past. We know far greater emphasis in terms of subsidy payments will be placed on environmental measures in the future and having a consistent source of income over the next five years from a simple CS scheme will help during the transitional period.

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