CS scheme 'too complex' - survey reveals

Wildflower zone at Stockbridge_600_400

Farmers and growers say the new agri-environment scheme in this country is too complex to take part in, according to a new survey by the NFU.

The NFU is now urging the Government to undertake an urgent review of the scheme’s implementation and to introduce a raft of changes in order to make it more accessible to the industry.

Guy Smith

NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “This scheme is an important tool in enabling farmers to continue to maintain and enhance biodiversity, water, soils and to address future challenges such as climate change and we are very clear - farmers must to be able to continue the very good work that has been achieved in agri-environment schemes.

“However, final application numbers for the scheme have confirmed the poor uptake that we had feared. This is bitterly disappointing especially as we do not believe it is due to lack of interest or engagement from farmers – our survey shows that 93% were aware of the scheme and that 42% looked at it in detail. The new scheme is simply just too complex for many.

“The key issues have included last minute guidance changes and decisions on critical matters such as dual use, poorly drafted guidance and options, burdensome record keeping requirements and a narrow application window during the busiest time in the farming calendar.

“Sadly, we are seeing an increasing amount of disillusionment among our members. The key priority now must be to make the new scheme more accessible than it is currently, particularly for mid-tier applicants, and any changes enabled quickly to give much needed certainty to any prospective applicants. 

“Despite the initial problems, the NFU remains committed to working with Defra and Natural England on the scheme’s continued development and implementation and we would like to play an active and positive part in any review.  

“Farmers have always been very passionate about their participation in agri-environment and the benefits that these schemes bring to our countryside and we would very much like their involvement and enthusiasm to continue.”

The main findings include:

  • There was a high awareness (93%) of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme but issues with scheme design, the guidance and the application process have deterred members from applying;
  • Guidance is not user friendly and is insufficient for making decisions and members are considering paying for professional advice (74%);
  • Payments are too low compared to what’s being asked for and the associated risks (48% said that joining the scheme would not be worthwhile for their business);
  • It is over complicated, bureaucratic and too prescriptive;
  • Small farmers and upland farmers are at a disadvantage.


  • Posted by: Bill FonePosted on: 04/11/2015 20:35:23

    Comment: I quite agree with the conclusion. I was interested to make the effort to join this scheme for the discipline and advice, quite apart from the financial incentive, but the timing of the application and the complexity and reporting killed my willpower. I'd certainly welcome a re-launch of the project.
  • Posted by: Simon TaylorPosted on: 04/11/2015 21:30:22

    Comment: "CS scheme too complex" - I agree whole-heartedly with your article. We were in ELS for years but have decided not to apply for CS because (i) it is too complicated; (ii) it is too time-consuming; (iii) it is competitive, so you have no idea what you will get for all the effort; and (iv) it is annual - next year you've got to do it all over again, and you have no idea of how much the goalposts will have moved (or where they will have moved to - a vegan as Shadow Minister i/c DEFRA, anyone??).

    We were phoned by NE (or whoever is running the scheme now) and were asked why we hadn't applied - they had heard our answer many, many times before. We also made the point that both they and us had invested a great deal of time in setting up ELS less than ten years ago and that they now seemed to have thrown all of that out of the window and were starting again - from their point of view, a massive waste of resources (paid for by us), from my point of view they want me to re-do something I did less than ten years ago, with not a shred of certainty about the outcome - no thank you.
  • Posted by: Roger CartwrightPosted on: 21/11/2015 13:53:14

    Comment: I have been involved in helping farmers and landowners with forestry and agri-environment schemes since 1991 but have now almost abandoned this work in despair. From the outset I could see the potential for combining Countryside Stewardship with the forestry grant schemes but when I see the result,I can only say "Be careful what you wish for"!

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