Farmers and land managers risk missing out on income from wildlife offers under Countryside Stewardship because they are unaware of the schemes.
Applications for these four simplified agreements under CS close on 31 July.
“The four wildlife offers are a unique opportunity with the added advantage that unlike other similar schemes, they are non-competitive,” says Ben Compton, associate at Bruton Knowles.
“However, we are very concerned that farmers and land managers are either unaware of the available funding, or are being put off from applying by previous schemes’ complicated application processes.”
There are arable, lowland, mixed and upland offers, designed to support wildlife by providing nectar and pollen for insect pollinators, winter food for seed-eating birds and improved habitats – especially for farmland birds and pollinators.
Each offer has a set of options and requirements, with a wildlife benefit and payment rate.
Successful applicants receive a five-year agreement with annual payments. For example, introducing a nectar flower mix earns £511/ha/year, while a winter bird mix is worth £640/ha/year and very low input grassland £95/year.
These could suit less productive areas of farms and produce a positive financial contribution after similar establishment costs to those of traditional cropping, says Mr Compton.
Successful applications have a 1 January 2020 start date and run until 31 December 2024. These offers are a five-year scheme, so may be a secure, known income stream to help weather changes in agricultural policy in the coming years.
Capital grants are not available under wildlife offers.
Bruton Knowles’ tips for completing a wildlife offer application:
- Typically, a wildlife offer has options on just 5% of the holding – is all your holding productive land?
- Consider carefully the areas of the farm that aren’t currently being used productively. How could these be maximised to protect wildlife or the environment? Look at field corners, banks or wet areas.
- Keep it simple – don’t over-complicate as this will make day-to-day management a challenge, for example having different types of margins with different closed periods in the same field.
- Beyond the minimum requirements of each offer, any additional options are paid for on a £/ha basis. So, as long as the minimum requirements are met, applications can include as many options as you like.
- Holdings with SSSIs, scheduled ancient monuments, existing other agri-environment schemes or very large holdings are not eligible for wildlife offers but only for mid-tier agreements for which the application deadline is also 31 July.
- Ensure you are signed up to the Rural Payments Service and have an SBI number. You can register online at gov.UK Verify, or call the Rural Payments Helpline on 03000 200 301.