On the back of poor delivery of Countryside Stewardship (CS), it is no surprise the responses to the government's Health and Harmony consultation highlighted the need for a simpler scheme, with clear guidance and a more proportionate approach to penalties. As we look to the future it will be important that we learn the lessons from current delivery.
The NFU has continued to lobby for ‘fixes’ to CS delivery problems that are impacting on applicants and agreement holders. The NFU has asked for:
- Bridging payments for those who have not received any payment for 2017 work. Defra has announced that bridging payments will be available for Countryside Stewardship agreements and more resources are being made available to process ELS/HLS payments.
- Amendment of the CS Mid-Tier application deadline as a consequence of application packs being issued so late. The NFU is optimistic that this will be agreed.
- HLS roll over. Discussions have started on this, although it may not be a simple option.
Natural England (NE) is working on changes for 2019. It is reviewing evidence requirements within the options, CS manuals are being re-written, and work is underway to increase online functionality.
The NFU continues to call for the right resource to be available for Defra, NE and RPA to work through the backlog to get delivery back on track and to make improvements for future years. On delivery, the NFU quickly wants to return to the position where payments are made in the autumn and spring, as expected; agreement offers are made before the agreement starts; and there’s clear and appropriate advice to help applicants and agreement holders.
Click here for the member briefing providing an update on, amongst other things, payments, progress with issuing applications and future scheme improvements.