Stewardship to be suspended

Environmental stewardship applications are to be suspended – just weeks after the launch of a campaign encouraging farmers to join.

Natural England, the government’s landscape agency, will suspend entry-level applications for almost two months, Farmers Weekly has learned.

The news has emerged less than three weeks after the government launched an industry-led campaign encouraging English farmers to join stewardship.

Farmers wanting to sign up for stewardship will be unable to submit online applications from early December to late January.

The reasons for the suspension are complicated and believed to be two-fold.

It is understood that they relate to the results of an ongoing mapping update by the Rural Payments Agency.

But they also relate to the publication by Natural England of an updated stewardship handbook for farmers.

The agency is keen to avoid a situation where farmers apply to join stewardship only find that the application process has changed.

Civil servants took the view that it was better to use the Christmas period to have a clear break between the old and new systems.

But the decision will frustrate farmers who want to sign up to stewardship as part of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.

“The timing could have been better,” acknowledged an agency insider.

DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn launched the campaign on 5 November.

Farmers are being urged to increase key in-field options under entry-level stewardship by 40,000ha within three years.

If they fail to do so, growers face the prospect of compulsory government measures forcing them to manage a percentage of their farmland for the environment.

Full details of the suspension are expected to be published in the coming days.

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