What is Countryside Stewardship?
Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements provide financial incentives for farmers to look after and improve the environment through:
- Conserving and restoring wildlife habitats
- Offering farmers incentives for flood risk management
- Offering funds for woodland creation and management
- Preserving historical features and incentivising education access
- Keeping the character of the countryside.
Agreements are management by the RPA. CS is made up of multiple grants; the main elements include:
We will continue to update this page as more information on the other grants becomes available.
The ELMs prospectus confirms that the government plan to build on and continue CS (Countryside Stewardship) rather than pursuing the previous plan for a new scheme called Local Nature Recovery. This means that we can expect the CS offer to be developed and improved. These developments will include more support for collaborative delivery, this is being termed ‘CS Plus’.
There are several key updates for CS 2023/2024 to be aware of.
These include changes to the Mid Tier online applications, changes to the claim process and the removal of funding limits for Capital Grants following extensive NFU lobbying. NFU Vice President David Exwood highlighted how the latter of these will “help address any concerns with our members that the payment rate increases would result in less delivery on the ground”.
2023 CS agreements – Although the majority of 2023 agreement offers have been sent out, there are still some outstanding. Those awaiting an offer have been contacted by the RPA. The NFU continues to lobby for offers to be sent out prior to agreements starting.
CS claims – 90% of CS revenue claims made in 2022 have been paid, the payment window remains open until June. CS claims can be submitted from the 14 March 2023.
Key Dates for CS applications
The RPA have released the 2023 key dates covering the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), CS, ES and the Lump Sum Exit Scheme. The RPA key dates are available at GOV.UK | Rural Payments Agency key dates 2023
If you are applying for a CS agreement it is important to read the manuals well ahead of any deadlines to give yourself plenty of time to apply for and receive any approvals and/or consents.
The important dates for CS applications (for January 2024 agreements) are:
- 7 February – CS Higher Tier open for applications.
- 21 March – CS Mid Tier and Wildlife Offers open for applications.
- 28 April – CS Higher Tier application window closes.
- 2 June – Deadline to contact the RPA about priority habitat amendments and management option approval.
- 18 August – CS Mid Tier and Wildlife Offer application window closes
Key dates for 2023 CS/ES/HLS annual revenue claim declarations
The important dates for 2023 CS/ES/HLS annual revenue claim declarations are:
- 14 March – CS and ES/HLS revenue claim declarations open.
- 15 May – CS and ES/HLS revenue claim declaration deadline without reduction.
- 31 May – Deadline to make certain changes to CS revenue claim declarations (submitted before 15 May) without receiving a reduction.
- 31st August – CS/ES/HLS revenue claim declaration deadline with reduction.
CS, ES and HLS Capital Grant claims are open all year.
Payment rate changes and limits
Countryside Stewardship payment rates changes were announced by Farming Minister Mark Spencer at the Oxford Farming Conference.
These changes result in an average increase of 10% for CS revenue payments (which apply to all agreement holders from 1 January 2023), and a 48% average payment increase to CS capital items.
If an agreement started before this date there is the option to amend part, or all of it to access the increased payment rates. Read our guide on what to consider before making changes to your agreement.
The NFU has also helped secure the removal the funding limits for Capital Grant groupings for both standalone Capital Grants (including SFI pilot) and Mid Tier applications.
This change means there is no longer a limit on either the maximum amount for a Capital Grant application or the amount you can apply for in each of the four groups: boundaries, trees and orchards, water quality, air quality and natural flood management.
“I am delighted that successful NFU lobbying has helped secure the removal of the £20,000 funding limits for Capital Grant groupings.”
NFU Vice President David Exwood
Changes to the revenue claims process
The online CS annual revenue claim process is changing and will be referred to as a revenue claim declaration.
The RPA have built in a declaration to improve the process, this will mean the process is slightly different to previous years. The RPA will provide guidance on the revenue claim declaration process.
The offline claims process is still being finalised by the RPA, therefore pre-populated claims forms won’t be available until after Easter.
As well as a slightly longer window to submit revenue claims declarations, the RPA will be applying more proportionate reductions where claims are received late. The reduction will be scaled according to how late the claim is.
Capital Grants are available as part of a revenue agreement (Mid Tier or Higher Tier) and/or as a standalone Capital Grant agreement. New agreements will have three years to complete the capital works rather than two years.
Standalone Capital Grants are available with a rolling application window, meaning you can make applications at any time of year from 5 January 2023 onwards.
The Capital Grant 2023 offer provides standalone capital item agreements that deliver environment outcomes within four groups, boundaries, trees and orchards; water quality; air quality; and natural flood management. There is no longer a limit to the value of capital items in these groups. There are 70 options available. A new Natural Flood Management group has been added to the CS Capital Grants 2023 offer with three capital items available in this group - RP31, RP32 and RP33.
The Higher Tier capital grant offer is a new additional offer which provides a selection of specialist Higher Tier capital items to help support environmental benefits for land already in a CS or ES/HLS agreement. There are 20 capital items, with applications open all year.
Land in a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or Scheduled Monument is now eligible for capital items if the land is already covered by an existing CS or ES/HLS agreement.
You can apply for the capital grants at GOV.UK | Capital Grants 2023: Countryside Stewardship
CS Higher Tier
For 2023, applications opened on 7 February 2023 for CS Higher Tier. These are for agreements starting on 1 January 2024. Applications will close on 28 April 2023.
High Tier grants go towards supporting areas such as commons and woodlands, and other environmentally significant sites and offers a greater range of grants than Mid Tier.
You can find out more about applying for CS Higher Tier at: GOV.UK | Higher Tier grants 2023: Countryside Stewardship
Mid Tier and Wildlife Offers
The application window for MT (Mid Tier) and Wildlife Offer agreements is open and will remain open until 18 August 2023. Wildlife Offers are pre-made selections of Mid Tier options which focus on improving wildlife, they are aimed at being a quicker and easier way to apply for a Mid Tier agreement.
More information on CS MT and Wild Offers can be found at: GOV.UK | Mid Tier grants and Wildlife Offers 2023: Countryside Stewardship
The RPA have previously offered CS MT mirror agreements – these agreements simply offered and replicated the previous MT agreement. Due to a low uptake of these mirror agreements, the RPA will no longer offer these for MT. Those with a MT agreement expiring in 2023 who wish to continue with CS will need to apply this year for a new CS agreement which would start in 2024. Higher Tier mirrors will continue to be offered for the time being.
CS Mid Tier application process
The CS MT online application process is changing for 2023/2024. The RPA have streamlined the online application process with the aim of making it simpler and quicker to apply. More information will be published once the application window has opened.
Ahead of starting an application, it is important to check your digital maps on the Rural Payments Service are all up-to-date and any changes have been made using the RLE1 form.
The CS MT offline application process is still being finalised by the RPA and as such there will be a delay in application packs being available on the 21 March 2023.
Catchment Sensitive Farming Approval
Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) support and approval now covers high, medium, and low priority areas for water and air quality. This therefore applies to the whole country.
Requests for approval of applicable revenue and/or capital items must be submitted at least 10 weeks before a CS application is submitted. More information on CSF including how to request approval can be found at: GOV.UK | Countryside Stewardship mid-tier and capital grants: get support and approval before you apply.