Many farmers and landowners are reluctant to commit to Countryside Stewardship (CS) this year because they fear it may restrict their access to rewards for the public good that future support will prioritise.
Stewardship opened for 2019 applications this week, while the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (Elms) will not open to all until 2025.
Savills’ estate and farming team advises on the management of more than 400,000ha of UK farmland. Research among the team suggests that CS uptake may be held back by uncertainty over the future environmental payments landscape.
Two-thirds of the firm’s farm and land advisers staff judged that clients who were currently not in schemes were waiting to see what the new Elms involves rather than applying to CS now.
The remaining third said clients were minded to apply to current schemes in order to offset the loss of direct payments from 2021 onwards.
Farms and estates already in environmental stewardship schemes were minded to take advantage of opportunities to renew or extend their agreements, said more than four in five advisers.
“The current scheme’s complexity and design, and the income foregone/costs incurred-based payments not providing any profit, were identified as major barriers to participation,” said Emily Norton, head of rural research at Savills.
A high proportion (72%) of advisers cited concern that environmental enhancements made now may undermine the case to be paid for delivering public goods in future as a reason for not applying, despite reassurances from Defra that farmers making environmental improvements now would not be penalised under the new scheme.
“Disappointment with the current scheme is also weighing heavily on participation rates, and this reassurance does not appear to be having the desired effect,” said Ms Norton.
“Some clients are, however, already taking proactive action, keeping environmental records and considering what public goods their farm or estate may be able to provide, in order to maximise opportunities under a future scheme.
“Government needs to do more to confirm the transition arrangements to the future scheme as soon as possible, as well as addressing current operational issues, in order to maximise uptake in the current scheme.”