Agri-environment scheme changes, flexibilities, and opportunities

First published: 25 November 2022

An image of a wild flower field

From 1 January 2023, all ES (Environmental Stewardship), CS (Countryside Stewardship) and HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) agreement holders will move on to the same T&Cs (Terms and Conditions). We've outlined key dates for existing agreement holders, the flexibilities of the new T&Cs and where opportunities may lay. 

All existing EU agri-environment agreements will move to domestic (UK) T&Cs (Terms and Conditions) from 1 January 2023.

The move allows for a simplification of the schemes which in turn will help to create greater flexibility and opportunities for agreement holders, an ask the NFU has continued to lobby for. We welcomes these changes which will help members.

In addition to the information set out on this page, we've produced a detailed briefing for members:

Member briefing: Environmental Stewardship and Countryside Stewardship changes – future flexibilities and opportunities

Changes to Terms and Conditions

The move will affect ES (Environmental Stewardship), CS (Countryside Stewardship) and HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) agreements which began before 1 January 2021.

The move will affect ES, HLS and CS agreements which began before 1 January 2021.

This change will lead to all agreement holders having the same T&Cs.

Affected agreement holders will be contacted directly by the RPA (Rural Payment Agency) about this change. Agreement holders should read the updated T&Cs however no further action is needed.

A summary of the main changes to the T&Cs is available on GOV.UK for each scheme:

Flexibilities

HLS extensions

An opportunity the move to domestic T&Cs will create is the provision for the RPA to grant longer HLS extensions, a change the NFU successfully lobbied for.

The RPA is offering up-to five-year extensions to eligible HLS agreements expiring in 2023.

Eligibility for the extensions is assessed by Natural England. It is expected that the majority of extensions expiring in 2023 will be eligible.

The RPA will be in contact with agreement holders whose HLS expires in 2023 – in some cases extension offers are already being sent out.

More detail about 2023 HLS agreement extensions, can be found in our member briefing: Environmental Stewardship and Countryside Stewardship changes – future flexibilities and opportunities

Site visits and administrative checks

There is greater flexibility to the RPA's approach to site visits (previously called inspections) and administrative checks.

This includes a longer notice period given to agreement holders before a site visit and in some cases virtual site visits.

The field officers (previously called inspectors) will take a new supportive and farmer focused approach. More information about this approach can be found on this RPA blog: RPA’s new supportive, partnership-based approach to visits | GOV.UK

Transferring between schemes

Agreement holders can leave an agri-environment agreement early if they are successfully accepted onto another environmental scheme that provides as a minimum equivalent environment management.

This includes those with a new five-year HLS extension looking to move to CS.

Breaches, repayments, and penalties

Where there is a difference between what is being delivered in the agreement and what is being claimed, the RPA, following checks will recover any difference.

If the RPA has already paid the agreement holder, they will recover the difference.

Additional penalties however will not be applied but reductions will still apply to late payment claims.

There will be no payment recovery for exiting an agreement early and entering another environmental scheme.

Opportunities

Please note, the practicalities and some of the details surrounding these opportunities are currently being finalised by the RPA.

The opportunities outlined below are those that will support the new flexibilities in 2023. Further changes and opportunities for CS 2024 will be shared in due course.

Capital Grants

  • New standalone Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier Capital Grants
    • From 2023 onwards there will be standalone Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier Capital Grants available all year around with rolling start dates. This will be available to HLS and CS agreement holders provided there is no conflict in the requirements for each agreement.
  • CS Capital Grant options will be allowed on SSSI land already in an existing HLS or CS agreement.

Agreement co-locating

The block preventing more than one agreement in a parcel will be removed.

  • From 2023 onwards a CS revenue application (Higher Tier, Mid-Tier...) can be submitted for any unused land in a land parcel with an existing HLS or CS agreement on
  • This will allow multiple agreements on the same land parcel as long as there is no overlap, agreements would essentially sit side by side

Other changes

CS option GS4 on land parcels containing an historic feature

Following NFU lobbying CS option GS4 (legume and herb-rich swards) can now be offered on land parcels that contain a historic feature, as long as the option is not on the historic or archaeological feature and there is a suitable buffer area.

This will be offered to applicable CS agreements that start from 1 January 2023.

Where GS4 has been removed in 2021 and 2022 agreements because of the presence of a historic feature, the agreement holder can request an amendment to their agreement in line with this change.

Amendments for these agreements should be requested. Visit: RPA Minor and Temporary Adjustment Form | GOV.UK

If agreed, the amendment will take effect from the 1 January 2023.

Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund

A new round of the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund is now open for applications until 25 January 2023. Please see the NFU article for more information

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