A bee on a wildflower© Tim Scrivener

Defra has published further details of its simplified Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme

The scheme opened for applications on 15 January 2018.

The government announced a radical shake-up of the scheme in 2017, revealing it wanted to make things easier for farmers by introducing a short menu of options tailored around four different farm types.

Ministers hope by offering a streamlined version of the scheme – with some agreements based on the delivery of just two management options –  they can halve the paperwork involved in putting forward applications.

See also: Revamped stewardship scheme helps to streamline process

The other big change is the revised CS will be non-competitive, so all farmers who meet the eligibility requirements will be offered an agreement.

Ministers are hoping these changes will encourage more farmers to get back into environmental stewardship, tapping into farmers’ enthusiasm for the old Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) scheme which was significantly more popular than CS because it was straightforward.

Complexity

One of the biggest problems with CS has been the level of complexity involved in putting forward an application – with applicants asked to choose from a list of more than 130 different management options or capital items.

Farmers have also complained about the level of record-keeping involved with any CS agreement.

The new “offers” cover arable, lowland grazing, upland and mixed farming businesses. 

Farmers who want to put in a fuller application will still be able to do so as the mid- or higher-tier framework remains in place.

General rules for simplified Countryside Stewardship

  • Land must be registered on the Rural Payments Service to a single business identifier (SBI).
  • The chosen options must cover at least 3% of land – 3ha in every 100ha.
  • If the SBI has a Site of Special Scientific Interest or Scheduled Monument associated with it then it will not be eligible for the simplified option. 
  • Farmers cannot apply if they have land in an environmental stewardship agreement that ends after 1 January 2019 or is subject to an inheritance tax exemption agreement 
  • Land must not be used on an application which overlaps with an ecological focus area.
  • Closing date for applications is 31 July 2018.
  • Farmers need to request an application pack before processing with an application (call 020 8026 1089 or email enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk).
  • Applications for the mixed, lowland and upland agreement options must be made on paper.
  • Growers will be able to make online applications for the arable option after 20 February unless they have more than 100 land parcels. In these cases a paper application must be made. 

1. Arable offer

Defra has identified a list of 11 potential options it would like arable farmers to implement, split across three categories.

Applicants will be required to pick at least one option from each category, but can pick more.

The package farmers choose must also delivers a minimum 3% of farmed land under the options needed for farmland birds and wild pollinators.

Category 1 Nectar and pollen sources (minimum 1% or 1ha/100ha of farmed land included in the agreement, no maximum)

AB1 Nectar flower mix £511/ha
AB8  Flower-rich margins and plots  £539/ha
Category 2 Winter food for seed-eating birds (minimum 2% or 2ha/100ha farmed land included in the agreement, no maximum)  
AB9  Winter bird food £640/ha
Category 3 Additional resources and habitats (no minimum or maximum, apart from individual option requirements)  
BE3 Management of hedgerows £8/100m
AB4  Skylark plots  £18 (£9 per plot, minimum 2 plots per ha)
AB5  Nesting plots for lapwing and stone curlew  £524/ha
AB6  Enhanced overwinter stubble  £436/ha
AB11  Cultivated areas for arable plants £532/ha
AB12  Supplementary winter feeding for farmland birds £632/t for every 2ha of AB9
SW1  4m to 6m buffer strip on cultivated land  £353/ha
WT2  Buffering in-field ponds and ditches on arable land  £501/ha

2. Lowland grazing offer

As part of the lowland grazing offer, there will be seven options to choose from, again split across three categories – although farmers will only required to pick options from the first two categories. 

This means the minimum number of options for a five-year lowland grazing agreement is two. 

Category 1 Nectar and pollen sources (minimum 2% or 2ha/100ha of farmed land included in the agreement, no maximum)

GS2  Permanent grassland with very low inputs – outside severely disadvantaged area (SDA) £95/ha
GS4  Legume and herb-rich swards  £309/ha
Category 2 Nesting and shelter for insect pollinators and birds (minimum 500m of BE3 or 1% or 1ha of GS1 per 100ha farmed land included in the agreement, no maximum)
BE3  Management of hedgerows  £8/100m
 GS1  Take field corners out of production (outside SDA)  £365
Category 3 Optional additional resources and habitats (no minimum or maximum, apart from individual option requirements)
GS3  Ryegrass seed-set as winter/spring food for birds  £331/ha
GS17 Lenient grazing supplement  £44/ha
 WT1   Buffering in-field ponds and ditches in improved grassland   £201/ha

Upland offer

Upland farmers will be required to pick from a selection of four base and four supplementary options. 

The minimum requirement is for farmers to pick one base option and two supplements, two base options ad one supplement or three base options. 

Base options

GS5 Permanent grassland with very low inputs in SDAs  £16/ha
 UP1  Enclosed rough grazing  £39/ha
UP2 Management of rough grazing for birds  £88/ha
BE3  Management of hedgerows  £8/100m
Supplements
 GS15   Haymaking supplement £85/ha
 GS16  Rush control supplement  £73/ha
 GS17  Lenient grazing supplement  £44/ha
 SP6  Cattle grazing supplement £45/ha

3. Mixed farming offer

The mixed farming offer has the most options on offer – 14 – which are split across three categories.

Farmers will be required to pick at least one option from each of three categories.

Category 1 Nectar and pollen sources  (minimum 1% or 1ha/100ha of farmed land included in the agreement for AB1 and AB8; 2% or 2ha for GS4. No maximum)

AB1 Nectar flower mix £511/ha
AB8  Flower-rich margins and plots  £539/ha
GS4  Legume and herb-rich swards  £309/ha
Category 2 Winter food for seed-eating birds (minimum 2% or 2ha/100ha farmed land included in the agreement, no maximum)  
AB9  Winter bird food £640/ha
Category 3 Additional resources and habitats (no minimum or maximum, apart from individual option requirements)  
AB5  Nesting plots for lapwing and stone curlew  £524/ha
AB6  Enhanced overwinter stubble  £436/ha
AB11  Cultivated areas for arable plants  £532/ha
AB12 Supplementary winter feeding for farmland birds  £632/t for every 2ha of AB9
 GS2  Permanent grassland with very low inputs (outside SDAs)  £95/ha
GS17  Lenient grazing supplement £44/ha
SW1  4m to 6m buffer strip on cultivated land  £353/ha
BE3  Management of hedgerows  £8/100m
WT1 Buffering in-field ponds and ditches in improved grassland £201/ha
WT2  Buffering in-field ponds and ditches on arable land  £501

4. Hedgerow and boundaries grants

Additional funding has been pumped into the hedgerows and boundaries part of the scheme.

Farmers will be able to apply for a maximum grant of £10,000, up from £5,000 in previous application rounds.

The application period for the scheme also opened on 15 January and closes on 30 April 2018.

Land managers can choose from 12 different options, which include payments for hedge laying (£9.40/m), gapping up (£9.50/m) coppicing (£4/m) or earth bank (£7/m) and stone wall repairs (£25/m).


This article was updated on 15 January 2018 to reflect the release of guidance notes and opening on application window.