Industry calls on Government to sort out Countryside Stewardship mess

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Years of valuable conservation work could be put at risk as many farmers reaching the end of agri-environment schemes are unable to start new agreements, three leading farming organisations said today.

A backlog of farmers awaiting payments for environmental work, some up to nine months, is also unacceptable and needs to be sorted quickly.

The NFU, CLA (Country Land and Business Association) and TFA (Tenant Farmers Association) are calling on Government to make Countryside Stewardship fit for purpose and enable farmers to continue their good environmental delivery through stewardship schemes.

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NFU Deputy President Guy Smith (above) said: “As recently as 2014 we had over 70 per cent of farmland involved in environmental work through entry and higher level stewardship schemes. The vast majority of farmers wanted to continue doing it when their current arrangements ended.

“Huge investment has gone into achieving environmental gains on farmland. But farmers are telling us as their agreements end that they don’t see the current scheme as a realistic option - the risks of falling foul of the rules is too high and Natural England are struggling to convert sufficient expiring HLS agreements into Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship.  

“Government must give serious consideration to alternative approaches to securing continued delivery of agri-environmental schemes, including the continuation of ELS and HLS agreements. We need to make sure that Stewardship is fit for the future.

“It’s also totally unacceptable that farmers are being forced to wait for payments. How can you run a business when payments for work that’s been carried out aren’t made on time?”

Tim Breitmeyer, President of the CLA, said: “As farmers and landowners, we are rightly proud of the environmental delivery we have achieved through agri-environment schemes – many farmers delivering Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) or similar schemes for over 20 years.

“Alongside producing affordable food for the nation, these schemes allow us to deliver for the environment; managing and maintaining 70% of the landscape; planting or restoring 30,000km of hedgerows, creating 37,000km of grass margins. I know just how passionate our members are about nurturing and enhancing our countryside. But it is critical that the government fulfils its contractual obligation of timely payment.”

TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said: “It is madness to be sacrificing good environmental management as a result of poor administration.  Urgent, practical solutions need to be found to allow Natural England the breathing space it needs to deal with its current workload whilst it develops new, well designed and well run schemes for the post Brexit era.”

Last edited on: 06:06:2018

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  • Posted by: Alastair GilksPosted on: 07/06/2018 08:17:46

    Comment: My mid tier agreement started 1st January 2017. Capital grant was paid promptly last year but I have received nothing else. The cost of planting everything last year is incurred with no income to offset it. A waste of time.
  • Posted by: Bob HarveyPosted on: 08/06/2018 12:19:02

    Comment: The current CS scheme is the most complex and hideously detailed scheme since I started with environmental schemes in 1996 (Habitat). It shows all the signs of having been devised by people who spend all day gazing at computer screens rather than getting mud on their boots. I have just written to Natural England as below.

    Countryside Stewardship - Mid Tier 2019

    This small farm of 80 acres has been in various Environmental schemes since we entered the Habitat Scheme in 1996. Subsequently, we have had a series of environmental schemes with the current scheme expiring this year. I have attended a briefing meeting for the 2019 scheme and attended a one-to-one briefing, but I have two requests which could not be answered.

    The first is that, as our land is in the catchment area of Slapton Ley, I have had an on-site visit when preparing each previous application. This year, I am told, Natural England has decided that our streams have changed course and now climb 100 feet to avoid Slapton Ley before descending into the River Dart, so I am ineligible for a site visit. Could you please clarify this situation.

    The second is that one of my fields was under the 20-year non-input Habitat scheme which expired in 2016, so you have paid me some £4,000 of public money. However, despite the enthusiasm of your environmental officer in 1996 for the variety of species in this field, and the fact that it now produces hundreds of marsh orchids each year, no-one has checked the success of this management regime, or advised me on how I should manage it in the future. Furthermore it is not, is appears, now registered as ‘species rich pasture’. This appears to be a missed opportunity.

    It would be helpful if you could respond to these points in time for me to prepare an application for the 2019 scheme.

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