Farmers with a Higher-Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement expiring in 2021 will be offered a one-year extension by Natural England (NE) if they meet certain conditions, the government has confirmed.
Those producers who had their HLS agreements extended in 2019 and 2020 are also likely to have them rolled on for another year, assuming they still offer value for money.
The decision to offer extensions is seen as the best way to keep high-value agri-environmental agreements in place until Defra is ready to roll out its new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme in 2024.
NE will carry out an initial assessment to see if agreements that started in 2011 and are due to expire in 2021 may be suitable for extension.
If that assessment is positive, an NE adviser will contact the farmer to determine whether the agreement still meets the rules and continues to provide the environmental outcomes it was set up to deliver.
The adviser will then make a recommendation whether the agreement should be extended by 12 months.
One of the key things the adviser will look at is the environmental outcomes associated with the current agreement.
They will check if the management prescriptions are being carried out correctly and whether the options remain appropriate for the priority target features on a holding.
At least 80% of the priority habitats (PH) on the holding, which cover a wide range of semi-natural land types, will also need to be managed under appropriate options.
“Where your agreement has less than 80% of the PH on the holding under option management in your agreement, it is unlikely you will be offered an extension,” says the guidance.
“The expectation is that you should apply for CS mid-tier or higher-tier to bring the unmanaged PH into suitable options.”
NE is hoping to have completed all of its assessments and made its recommendations by December 2020.
Meanwhile, a similar exercise is taking place in Wales.
The Welsh government has confirmed that Glastir Advanced contracts ending 31 December 2020 will be extended by one year until 31 December 2021.
The renewed contracts for Glastir Advanced 2016 customers will be offered in autumn 2020 and will commence on 1 January 2021.
Customers with a renewed Advanced contract that commenced in 2018 and 2019 will also be offered a one-year extension.