Tips for applying for Countryside Stewardship in 2020

With key elements of Countryside Stewardship opening for applications last week, Alice De Soer from the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV) explains why and how to apply in 2020.

The effect of EU Exit on Countryside Stewardship

Following the UK’s exit from the EU, there’s a transition period until 31 December 2020.

Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements starting during this period remain under EU Common Agricultural Policy rules.

However, applying for CS (Higher Tier, Mid Tier or Wildlife Offers) this year, means the agreement will start on 1 January 2021, so is under domestic control for the first time, giving more flexibility.

See also: Guide to 2020 farming cross-compliance dates

Reasons to apply this year

The Agriculture Bill proposes phasing out direct payments (BPS) from 2021 to 2027, with no direct payments in 2028.

As the first reductions will hit next year, plugging that gap should be considered. Applying to CS now, with a five-year Mid Tier agreement, may offer some funding certainty until 31 December 2025.

The initial CS payment should be received from December 2021 onwards, when the payment window opens, around the same time as the first reduced BPS 2021 payment.

There may be concerns that applying to CS now, could prevent access to the proposed new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, when it’s rolled out from 2024 to replace BPS and CS.

Defra has committed to ensuring anyone in existing schemes isn’t “unfairly disadvantaged” when new schemes are introduced.

As new CS agreements starting 1 January 2021 are under domestic control, the intention is to allow early withdrawal without penalty to enter ELM scheme.

How to apply

Before applying, read the guidance on and use the “Countryside Stewardship grants finder” tool to help choose options.

Check you and your land are correctly registered on the Rural Payments service.

You will need a “Countryside Stewardship (Applications) ‘Submit’ permission” to apply. To register land or update your online digital maps, use an RLE1 form.

Download a Higher Tier by 31 March 2020, or Mid Tier application pack by 30 June 2020 on the Rural Payments service.

Apply for Higher Tier by 1 May and Mid Tier by 31 July 2020. Apply online via the Rural Payments service for the Wildlife Offers by 31 July 2020, and Hedgerows and Boundaries grants by 1 May 2020.