Voluntary stewardship scheme faces ‘serious cuts’ to budget

A voluntary stewardship scheme that encourages farmers and land managers in England to protect the environment while balancing food production is facing severe cuts to its budget.

The final year of the three-year delivery plan for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) will finish at the end of March.

For the 2016-17 financial year, Defra will offer a reduced package of funding to CFE on a 12-month contract to continue to support the department’s objectives on enhancing greening under CAP, Biodiversity 2020, the National Pollinator Strategy and the Water Framework Directive.

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The delivery plan for 2016 will be agreed before the end of the month. No details of the extent of the budget cuts have been revealed. However, Farmers Weekly understands Defra will offer roughly equivalent to 25% of the funding it provided in the 2015-16 financial year.

Defra usually contributes between 35-40% of the total CFE funding, with the rest of the funding coming from the CLA, NFU and other industry organisations.

The cuts will mean the time that CFE co-ordinators will be paid for will be much reduced. There will be fewer local liaison group meetings, but more support will be required from partners for events running under the CFE banner. The NFU and CLA will continue to support the scheme centrally.

NFU ‘disappointed’ by CFE budget cuts

Sam Durham, CFE co-ordinator for the NFU, said he was “disappointed” that Defra was reducing its funding, but nonetheless relieved the campaign would continue.

“Defra is in a tricky position because it does not physically have the money. It wants to try to help the industry find alternative sources of funding,” he added.

“As far as the NFU and CLA are concerned, the campaign is more important than ever. We are looking at ways of making efficiency savings to keep as much delivery on the ground as we can.”

Damian Testa, head of land use at the CLA, said as a partner organisation it would continue to work with the CFE to ensure the greatest benefit can be achieved for farmers and for the environment with the resources available.

He added: “This is a time of significant change in terms of environmental schemes, with thousands of Environmental Stewardship scheme agreements coming to an end in both 2015 and 2016.

“There will be fewer such agreements available under the new Countryside Stewardship scheme, launched last year, due to a lower budget.

“The CFE provides an important bridge between the environmental compliance requirements under CAP and stewardship-level environmental work, advising farmers on best practice and encouraging voluntary measures.

“It is important that farmers continue their investment in voluntary environmental measures, which also supports farm productivity.”

Defra seeking other funding sources for 2017 and beyond

A Defra spokeswoman said a reduction in funding was necessary to help Defra “meet the 15% budget cuts agreed in the autumn spending review”.

She added: “All CFE partners recognise the need for a more sustainable and long-term funding model and that is what we will work towards this year.

“CFE partners have proposed a structure that uses reduced funding more efficiently over 12 months and will continue to draw on significant industry funding.”

Defra said it was also working with partners of the scheme “to secure other funding sources for 2017 and beyond”.

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