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Over the last decade or so, there has been a dynamic shift from agricultural production subsidies towards environmental and ecological grant and subsidy schemes, as made clear in the recent CAP Reform and with the introduction of the new Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme for 2015 and beyond.

Countryside Stewardship will be open to all eligible farmers, woodland owners, foresters and other land managers with the main priority being to protect and enhance the natural environment, in particular the diversity of wildlife (biodiversity), improvement of water quality, maintenance of the historic environment and promotion of educational access. The improvement of these priority areas if being backed with approximately £900million of grant funding.

Unlike previous schemes (such as Entry Level Stewardship, Higher Level Stewardship, English Woodland Grant Scheme, all of which are now closed), most elements of Countryside Stewardship are competitive, which means that not everyone who applies will be successful. Targeting and scoring will encourage applicants to choose options that help achieve the environmental priorities in their local area.

The scheme will be jointly run by Natural England, Forestry Commission England and the Rural Payments Agency on behalf of Defra.

There are three main elements to Countryside Stewardship:

  • Mid Tier agreements: multi-year agreements for environmental improvements in the wider countryside;
  • Higher Tier agreements: multi-year agreements for environmentally significant sites, commons and woodlands where more complex management requires delivery body support; and
  • Capital Grants: a range of 1-2 year grants for hedgerows and boundaries, improving water quality, developing plans, woodland creation (establishment), and tree health.

Countryside Stewardship agreements will start on 1st January, so there will be only one application window each year with the first agreements then starting on 1st January 2016.

With the application process for all grants being highly competitive, professional advice and a strong application will be essential to secure any funding. Samuel & Son are fully briefed on the new Countryside Stewardship scheme options and have extensive experience in helping farmers and landowners benefit from available opportunities in the context of environmental schemes and grant funding.

If you have eligible land and/or capital improvement works in mind, please get in touch as soon as possible to discuss your options.

The Capital Grants are open now with closing dates varying between the end of April and end of May 2015. The application period for Mid Tier and Higher Tier will open in July and close end of September 2015.

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