Many are looking to future scheme design on the back of Defra’s consultation ‘Health and Harmony: The future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’. Here the focus is on current delivery of the existing schemes.
There is one overlap. The consultation asks for views on changes to the scheme for 2019. Work is already underway for more online delivery and rewriting the manuals.
Progress is being made with payments. There are nearly 50% of advance payments made for both Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Environmental Stewardship (ELS, HLS). It is slow progress and Defra is still considering moving to a single payment. If that happens the NFU would like to see a safety net for agreement holders that may be affected by remapping or outstanding inspections.
Agreement offers for January 2018 start dates are a fraction of the way through being offered. The figures are low, but Natural England (NE) is aiming to issue all multiannual agreements by the end of March.
Remapping in the form of Proactive Land Change Detection (PLCD) has huge potential to create more work for delay which will affect agreement holders through further delays. The NFU wants to see a much clearer process and guidance to agreement holders for dealing with issues caused by the remapping. The RPA is working on a Q&A which should be available soon.
Applications are open for 2019 Countryside Stewardship agreements. There is a range of support available for Mid-Tier applicants. One of the first deadlines is for Higher Tier application packs. These need to be requested by 9 March. If you have SSSI or common land you should be considering a Higher Tier agreement. The Hedgerow and Boundary Grant deadline is 30 April. All agreement holders will need to submit an annual claim form by 15 May.