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3 January 2016
The New Countryside Stewardship Scheme
DEFRA recently released the initial publication about the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Not to be confused with the old agri-environmental scheme of the same name, which ran from 1991 to 2004, the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme has been introduced to replace the Environmental Stewardship and England Woodland Grant Scheme as well as capital grants under Catchment Sensitive Farming.
Unlike the Environment Stewardship scheme, which the Countryside Stewardship replaces, there is no entry-level tier that is open to all. Instead, two levels of competitive tiers will exist; Mid Tier and Higher Tier. The Higher Tier is aimed at the highest priority sites and includes all woodland agreements. As a rule of thumb, those in the Higher Level Stewardship banding are likely to sit within this bracket, with a comparable list of options targeted at the delivery of significant environmental benefit.
The Mid Tier agreements will be concentrating on delivering environmental gains with Natural England providing direction on the priorities of each locality and scoring applications on their attainment of them. It is expected that local advisor input will not exists and therefore professional advice will be key to successful applications.
It is believed that most Countryside Stewardship agreements will be in place for a 5-year period, with exceptions for Common Land, woodland creation or complex habitat restoration agreements which are likely to run for a 10 year period.
Additionally, three categories of one or two-year Capital Grants will be available in three categories: water capital grants, woodland creation grants and universal capital grants.
For all sectors of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, competition for grants will be strong and so exceptional applications are essential in securing any funding and all work must be completed and claimed within 12 months. With a single annual start date of the 1st January, those whose applications were submitted by the 30th September 2015 will have had an agreement start date of the 1st January 2016.
In order to be eligible for the scheme, applicants will need to prove that they have ‘management control’ of the land for which the application relates for the next 5 years from the start date of the Countryside Stewardship Agreement. Owner-occupiers with less than 5 years remaining on their tenancies from the start of the agreement may have applications counter signed by their landlords.
Land already covered by Entry Level Stewardship or an England Woodland Grant Scheme will not be eligible for a Countryside Stewardship Scheme until after that agreement ends.
The new DEFRA introductory publication makes much of the new Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package; a suite of options for lowland farmers designed to benefit both pollinating insects and farmland birds in an attempt to counteract the steep decline in numbers experienced in recent years. Using these options within applications will increase scores within this competitive process. However, applicants should be mindful of double funding issues if these options have been used within the Basic Payment Scheme process.