Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

£925 million funding for Countryside Stewardship

The cash supporting the Countryside Stewardship scheme has now been announced as £925 million, £25 million more than DEFRA suggested at the end of last year.

The new Countryside Stewardship scheme replaces Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) schemes as well as elements of the England Woodland Grant Scheme and Catchment Sensitive Farming programme. There will be Lower, Mid and Higher Tiers, all designed to meet a range of differing targets, including Biodiversity 2020 and the Water Framework Directive amongst others.

There will be £380 million for Higher Tier and £412 million for Mid Tier. Another £85 million will be allocated to Lower Tier capital spending grants which can be used for Water Capital Grants scheme and the Hedges and Boundaries Capital Grants.

The new agreements will normally be for five years and the Higher and Mid Tier agreements are effectively being seen as direct replacements for the existing Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship agreements.

All existing HLS and ELS agreements will continue to run for their originally agreed terms, but there is no certainty that agreement holders will be accepted into the new schemes. The existing ELS/HLS umbrella covers approximately 70% of land in England, but Natural England has indicated that they expect this to fall to around 40% over the next few years.

Higher Tier agreements are for the most environmentally important sites which require complex management. These agreements will be run by Natural England and the Forestry Commission, and one to one advice will be offered to agreement holders. There will be a wide range of options and capital grants available, but the first round of agreements will be by invitation only, with work to identify the initial invitees starting on March 23, 2015.

Following this, the application process will be broadly similar to that of the HLS system, and it is expected that approximately 90% of existing HLS holders will eventually be able to migrate to the new Higher Tier, but applicants will need to be aware that their applications are competing for a smaller pool of funding. Interested parties will need to contact Natural England or the Forestry Commission before applying.

The Middle Tier aims to address more widespread environmental issues such as creating better habitats for pollinators and farmland birds, and reducing diffuse water pollution. There will be a smaller range of options, and the process will be administered from the website. It is important to note that this level of agreement too will be competitive and will be scored against a national targeting framework which will have priorities for certain geographical areas.

The Lower Tier involves one off capital grants, the most popular of which is expected to be the Hedgerows and Boundaries Capital Grant. This is only open to farmers and land managers without a Higher or Middle Tier agreement or a current ES agreement. A grant of up to £5,000 is available for small scale restoration of boundary features such as hedgerows and stone walls. Other grants are available for water quality related projects.

Overall, the Countryside Stewardship programme aims to benefits the following key areas (in order of importance):

- Biodiversity
- Water quality and natural flood management
- climate change adaption and mitigation
- historic environment and landscape
- educational access

Key action points for potential applicants:

Check your existing agreements: if you have an existing ELS/HLS agreement, you will have to wait until that agreement ends before you can be entered into one of the new schemes.

Know who to contact: if you have an existing HLS scheme, you will be contacted by Natural England or the Forestry Commission before the end of your existing scheme. All Higher Tier applications must be discussed with these two organisations before submission.

Get ready: if you have an existing ELS scheme, you will need to apply through the website between July – September 2015. All agreements start on 1 January of the year following.

Double check your Ecological Focus Area plans under the new Basic Payment System: there are some Countryside Stewardship options which can be used on EFA areas, but others will result in double funding penalties reducing the amount offered.

Plan your funding: if you have existing HLS/ELS schemes the new agreements will only run from 1 January each so, you if you have an existing ELS scheme that expires in February, you will receive no funding until January of the following year.

Watch this space: Mid Tier targeting frameworks and further guidance is expected to be published on the 17th of March.

Water Capital Grants of up to £10,000 per holding, aimed at reducing water pollution from agriculture, and Woodland Creation Grants will be delivered by Natural England, the Forestry Commission, and the Rural Payments Agency with applications only in written format. Water Capital Grants applications can be made from 2 March to 30 April 2015. Works must be completed and claimed by 29 January 2016. Defra currently plans that applications for Woodland Creation Grants can be made from 17 February 2015 – submission dates vary and can be found by clicking here.

Documents on the Countryside Stewardship scheme can be found by clicking here.

For more information please get in contact with Edward Dixon

Edward Dixon
Graduate Surveyor
T: 01962 833397