Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Dates slip back already for CSS

The new Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) opened for applications on 1st July, but it will come as no surprise to farmers, who have recently endured the introduction of the new Basic Payment Scheme, that DEFRA has failed to publish the full terms and conditions of the scheme, leaving potential applicants in limbo.

The CSS replaces the existing Entry Level and Higher Level Environmental Stewardship schemes which have closed to new entrants. However, there is now less money available and so the new scheme will be competitive, unlike the old Entry Level Scheme.

Statements of Priorities have been drawn up that cover all of England and applicants to the scheme need to choose options and capital items that meet the environmental priorities for their geographical area. As the scheme is competitive, applications will be scored and agreements offered on the basis of meeting the environmental priorities applicable to the area where the applicant’s land is located.

The CSS comprises three core elements:

• Mid Tier – this will be open to any farmer to make an application and, if successful, they will be offered a five year agreement

• Higher Tier – this is predominantly an invitation led application process for “environmentally significant sites” where more complex management is required. Again these agreements are likely to be for five years

• Capital Grants – these are one to two year grants which will focus on work being carried out on field boundaries, things leading to water quality improvement, small scale woodland creation etc. 

In relation to the Higher Tier scheme, Natural England has already identified a number of potential applicants who were invited to complete an “expression of interest” form on line by 30th June, but this date slipped back to 15th July.

So it seems the new flagship environmental scheme has not got off to a very auspicious start and one wonders whether the 30th September deadline for submission of applications will also have to be moved back if the terms and conditions of the scheme are not published very soon.

Indeed this lack of clarity has prompted the NFU to warn farmers and other potential applicants against formally committing to the CSS before they know what they are signing up to.

Thus it seems yet again that we are witnessing the chaotic introduction of a new EU-funded scheme where high level decisions have been made which seem almost impossible to implement on the ground within the timescales set out by Whitehall mandarins.

Hollie Savage
Rural Surveyor, Wells Office