CAP Reform – NELMS has a new name. Countryside Stewardship scheme is announced.

As part of the Rural Development Programme for England £900m of funding has been allocated to managing the environment under the new Countryside Stewardship scheme that replaces the old HLS and ELS schemes, English Woodland Grant Scheme and Catchment Sensitive Farming programme. Countryside Stewardship agreements will start on 1st January, so there will be only one application window each year. The first agreements will start on 1st January 2016 and are mostly competitive so it is more important than ever to get professional advice on making an application.

[Published November 2014]

As part of the new CAP a new £900 million Countryside Stewardship scheme with a dedicated pollinator package will be introduced next year replacing:

  • Environmental Stewardship (ELS & HLS)
  • the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS)
  • capital grants from the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) programme

Unlike its predecessors, all Countryside Stewardship agreements will start on 1st January, so there will be only one application window each year.  The first agreements will start on 1st January 2016.

With the new scheme being entirely competitive (with the exceptions of applications for capital grants for woodland management plans and capital grants for tree health issues), it will be more important than ever to get professional advice on making an application.  The detail of the scoring system is still being developed with further information expected in January.

Countryside Stewardship will have 3 main elements:

  1. Higher Tier (similar to the current Higher Level Stewardship)
  2. Mid Tier (which will replace Entry Level Stewardship)
  3. a lower tier of capital grants, including the Hedgerows and Boundaries Capital Grants

 

The scheme will be delivered by Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Rural Payments Agency.

The main priority for Countryside Stewardship is biodiversity. Water quality is another important priority. The scheme will also look to improve:

  • flood managementPoppies Wheat
  • the historic environment
  • landscape character
  • genetic conservation
  • educational access
  • climate change adaptation and mitigation

Most multi-year agreements will be for 5 years. Longer agreements may be available in some exceptional circumstances.

The Higher Tier
The Higher Tier is targeted at the most environmentally important sites and woodlands. These will usually be in places that need complex management (such as habitat restoration, woodland creation or tailored measures for priority species) and will look very similar to HLS, with a similar range of options designed to deliver significant environmental benefits.

The Mid Tier
The Mid Tier aims to address widespread environmental issues, such as reducing diffuse water pollution or improving the farmed environment for farmland birds and pollinators.  Not all options will be available in this tier.  Natural England will provide direction on what the priorities are in each locality and will score applications on how well they meet those priorities. Only those applications with the highest scores will be offered an agreement.

The Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package
The new Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package is a specific group of management options that benefits wild pollinators, farmland birds and other farm wildlife in line with the Government’s 10 year pollinator strategy. The package will be available for farmed areas in lowland England. It’s voluntary, but choosing options from this package means your application will score more highly.

Under the Mid Tier applicants can choose from groups of options for different farmland types – arable, mixed or pastoral and typically the options should be applied over 3 to 5% of the land eligible for the scheme.

Under the Higher Tier applicants can choose from similar groups of options and typically the options should cover 5 to 10% of eligible land to target a broader range of farmland species and habitats

The management options in the package fall under the following three categories

  • Pollen/nectar resources for pollinators and chick-food for birds
  • Nesting sites for birds and pollinators
  • Winter food for seed-eating birds


CAPITAL GRANTS
As well as multi-year agreements, Countryside Stewardship will provide a range of capital grants to support farming and forestry operations that benefit the environment.

These are separate to the capital grants offered through the Higher Tier or Mid Tier. The grants are for:

  • hedges and boundaries
  • tree health issues
  • woodland management plans
  • woodland creation establishment (with associated multi-year agreement where applicable)
  • feasibility studies
  • implementation plans

There will also be targeted grants, with associated advice, for water quality improvements.

The Hedgerows and Boundaries Capital Grant offers funding up to a maximum of £5,000 per applicant for farmers and land managers who don’t have a Higher or Mid Tier agreement or a current ES agreement. These grants will mainly be for small-scale restoration of boundary features, like hedgerows and stone walls. Major restoration projects would be funded under the Higher Tier.

Water capital grants in 2015
It is intended that  capital grants of up to £10,000 per holding will be available to create infrastructures which will help reduce water pollution from agriculture.  Applications can be made from 2 March to 30 April 2015. Works must be completed and claimed by 29 January 2016.

Grants for works in 2015 will be available in Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) priority catchments only.

Woodland creation grants in 2015
From February 2015 applicants should be able to apply for woodland creation grants.  Applications will be accepted for a limited time only but the closing date has not yet been confirmed.

Applications will be scored and selected competitively. They will need to be for at least 3 hectares and each planting block will need to be at least 0.5 hectares in area. The exception to this where the woodland creation is identified and accepted as part of a suite of options to address issues with water quality. Under these circumstances, applications will need to be at least 1 hectare in area, with each planting block at least 0.1 hectares in area.

 

Countryside Stewardship and greening: double funding
EU rules state that someone must not be paid for the same thing twice on the same piece of land (known as ‘double funding’).  19 Countryside Stewardship options count as double funding if they are also used to meet Ecological Focus Area (EFA) requirements for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).  In any one year, wherever any of these options overlaps with an EFA feature, the Countryside Stewardship payment rate will be reduced but the BPS payment won’t be.

If you would like to register with us to receive details of all relevant grant schemes available under Countryside Stewardship and the yet to be announced Rural Development Programme grants for rural business productivity and growth please contact us on 01435 864020 and speak to Dan Page or Will Fraser.