New countryside stewardship scheme – DEFRA update

DEFRA has published an updated note on the new replacement scheme for Environmental Stewardship (ES). The new scheme will be called the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) and will encompass elements from ES, the English Woodland Grant Scheme and the capital grant from Catchment Sensitive Farming. The main stipulated priority of the CSS is biodiversity. We set out below a little more detail on the new scheme.

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) is the new environmental land management scheme which form part of the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme for England. The Countryside Stewardship are contributing around £900 million to rural businesses in order to help them improve the countryside environment and eligible applicants include farmers, land managers, land owners and tenants.

The CSS focuses on:

  • improving bee pollinator numbers and geographical spread across both urban and rural areas over the next 10 years
  • creating and restoring wildlife habitats and protecting hedgerows
  • providing food and nesting resources for birds, insects and animals
  • creating farmed areas for rare flowering plants
  • supporting the creation, development and management of woodlands
  • improving water quality and reducing risk of flooding by supporting changes to farming practice such as crop management
  • biodiversity and improving farm infrastructure
  • enabling educational access
  • climate change adaption and mitigation

CSS will have three main elements:

1 Higher Tier
These agreements will usually will need complex management and are relevant to environmentally important sites, habitat restoration, woodland creation and tailored measures for priority species. The application process is similar to the current higher level stewardship scheme.

Higher and Mid-Tier applications may be submitted between June and September 2015, and will be appraised in October with agreements awarded in November and December with a 1st January 2016 start date.

2 Mid Tier
Replaces entry level stewardship and aims to address widespread environmental issues such as diffuse water pollution and improving the farmed environment for farmland birds and pollinators. Scheme targeting and scoring against a national targeting framework encourages applicants to choose options that help achieve the environmental priorities important in their wider area so that benefits will be wider spread that just particular individual holdings. It is worth noting that a range of upland and organic options have now been included in the scheme.

Options should be applied for over 3-5% of the land entered into a scheme (for Higher Tier this increases to 10%) and can be sited on areas also used for Ecological Focus Areas under Greening but do be aware that double funding reductions continue to operate, although such a reduction is not universal. In any year when the land is used for an EFA together with one of the 19 overlapping options a payment reduction ranging from 50-100% will be applied.

3 Low Tier
Capital grants, including the Hedgerows and Boundaries Capital Grant of up to £5000. This grant is available to those not in a current ESS or CSS Mid/Higher Tier. The application window will be February to April 2015 with applications being appraised in May and agreements issued from June onwards.

Water Capital Grants will also be available with funds up to £10,000 for the improvement of infrastructure aiming to reduce water pollution. The application window for these is between 2 March and 30 April 2015 and work must be completed by 19 January 2016.

Woodland creation grants will also be available from February 2015.

As a rule most agreements will be for 5 years, although longer agreements may be agreed in exceptional circumstances (e.g. wetland habitats requiring complex changes to waterflow and retention or woodland creation agreements).

Further information, including details of the 240 options and capital items can be found at CAP reforms

Myerson are the premier agricultural solicitors in Cheshire and South Manchester. Our agricultural expert solicitors can advise on all aspects of Agricultural/Rural Business law. For more information please contact us on 0161 941 4000.

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