2023 Countryside Stewardship opens with changes to expand the scheme

The 2023 Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme is open and Defra has urged farmers in England to apply and use it as a bridge to the upcoming Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes.

Farming minister Victoria Prentis said farmers and land managers in CS will be well placed to enter the new Local Nature Recovery scheme, which will be introduced by 2024.

“We have increased payment rates by 30%, and made improvements to the scheme,” she said.

See also: Lump Sum Exit Scheme to open in April with up to £100,000 available

“We want to incentivise farmers to enhance the natural environment alongside sustainable food production – from restoring wildlife habitats and woodland management, to preserving the character of our beautiful countryside.”

Defra has made changes to broaden the scheme and make it easier to apply.

Online applications are now possible for the Mid Tier scheme to make the process simpler and allow farmers to apply for CS capital grants year round.

Paul Caldwell, Rural Payments Agency chief executive, said the 2023 CS scheme is a “key mechanism” to support farmers and land managers through the transition period and it would leave them well positioned to enter new schemes.

What’s on offer

  • Higher Tier These are five- or 10-year agreements to manage complex land in environmentally significant sites, commons or woodlands that require support from Natural England or the Forestry Commission.
  • Mid Tier Five-year agreements offering a range of options for continued land management, such as the management of species-rich grassland, and for specific environmental works such as installing fencing.
  • Wildlife Offers To help farmers and land managers protect wildlife and preserve the natural environment. They include the Arable Offer, the Lowland Grazing Offer, the Mixed Farming Offer and the Upland Offer.
  • Capital Grants For specific environmental works on land, covering hedgerows, trees, orchards and to improve air and water quality. Capital items include activities such as fencing installation (including metal fencing) and tree planting.
  • Woodland support To help manage and protect woodland.

To apply and find out more, visit the Countryside Stewardship page

Organic opportunities

Adrian Steele, Soil Association organic sector adviser, said there were big opportunities for farmers who convert to organic, as payment rates rise for 2023 CS agreements.

Converting permanent improved grassland and top fruit to organic will receive double the previous payments at a new rate of £150/ha.

Conversion to organic rotational land, horticulture and unimproved grassland will receive about 50% more than before, with new rates ranging from £76/ha to £602/ha.

“We are pleased to see this commitment to rewarding organic farming – it’s the first step towards recognising that we need to work in harmony with nature across the whole farmed environment,” said Mr Steele.

However, he said he was disappointed that rates for management of organic improved permanent grassland were frozen at £40/ha for this year and will be halved for 2023 agreements.

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