Farmers support scheme reopens

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THE Countryside Stewardship scheme has reopened for business, but with the first deadline for action swiftly approaching, farmers need to act fast.

David Hume.
David Hume.

This year’s application window – for farmers and landowners seeking to fund projects such as landscape protection, the reduction of flood risk and the improvement of water quality and woodland – only opened on March 10.

But those thinking of applying for the Higher Tier scheme have until just April 13 to request an application pack. The forms then have to be submitted by May 5.

Those wanting to apply for the Mid Tier or standalone capital grant scheme have until July 31 to request an application pack and until September 30 to submit the forms.

David Hume, of land, property and business consultancy George F. White, said: “Since the scheme opened in 2015 we have had success with all applications submitted, this is partially due to Natural England’s eagerness to attract farmers into the new scheme and continue to deliver environmental benefits.

“With the future security of subsidy payments being in doubt after 2020, now is the time to secure a further income stream for your farming business.”

The Higher Tier is aimed mainly at those coming out of Higher Level Environmental Stewardship agreements on farms offering significant conservation gains, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, moorland, woodland or other high priority habitats.

Farms that can take steps to improve water quality are a particular priority for Higher Tier at the moment too.

Mid Tier concentrates on delivering environmental gains across the wider countryside.

“The Countryside Stewardship scheme is a lot more targeted and bespoke, because you can pick elements that suit your own farm,” said David.

“There’s no points target to meet, so you can put in as much or as little as you want.

“It doesn’t need to be the whole farm approach as of old, which I think is what caught people out when this scheme started in 2015.

“If you are trying to renew your old Environment Stewardship scheme, in particular, then be aware – you can’t take a like-for-like approach, because that won’t work.”

Rather than a payment structured based on acreage, as in the old environmental scheme, farmers now had a list of options they could choose from that each carried a set rate. While it was not a case of first past the post in terms of points, the scheme was still competitive.

He said: “There are regional targets – priorities – to meet within areas that are then scored on your application.

“It does require a fair bit of thought and consideration, and farmers do need to take quite specific advice on this really.

“But in these straightened financial times, having that security of an additional income is attractive.”

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