Countryside Stewardship agreements provide financial incentives for farmers to look after and improve the environment. Agreements are management by the RPA. There are different grant options within CS, these include Capital Grants, Higher Tier and Mid Tier agreements.
Due to the issues that have affected CS Mid Tier applications this year, the RPA extended the application deadline to 15 September 2023. If an application was started before the deadline, the government confirmed in a press statement that it will continue to support those applicants in submitting a successful application, even if this is after the deadline.
Throughout the application window, the NFU highlighted members’ application issues and concerns to the RPA and welcomes the assurance from the government, although is disappointed that we are in this position.
Applicants who are still being affected by technical issues, are awaiting mapping changes or further clarification about a scheme transfer should be in direct contact with the RPA about their application.
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’.
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.
- 15 September – CS Mid Tier and Wildlife Offer application window closes
CS, ES and HLS Capital Grant claims are open all year.
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
From 2023 onwards, the online CS annual revenue claim process has changed. The RPA has built a declaration into the claims process, meaning it is slightly different to previous years.
The deadline to submit a CS revenue claim without a reduction was 15 May, the deadline to submit a claim with a reduction was 31 August. The RPA will be applying more proportionate late claim reductions to claims received between 15 May and 31 August. The reduction will be scaled according to how late the claim is.
RPA guidance on submitting a revenue claim can be found on: GOV.UK | How to make a capital or revenue claim for Countryside Stewardship.
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.
Following NFU lobbying the standalone Capital Grant fencing options FG1 (Fencing), FG2 (Sheep Netting) and FG3 (Permanent Electric Fencing) are now also eligible to protect environmental features, previously they were only eligible to prevent water pollution. This is a welcome change that members should be able to benefit from.
You can apply for the capital grants at GOV.UK | Capital Grants 2023: Countryside Stewardship
CS Higher Tier applications for agreements starting on 1 January 2024 are now closed.
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 CS Higher Tier at: GOV.UK | Higher Tier grants 2023: Countryside Stewardship
The application window for MT (Mid Tier) and Wildlife Offer agreements is open and the deadline has now been extended until 15 September 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.
Guidance on how to apply is available at: GOV.UK | Mid Tier grants and Wildlife Offers 2023: Countryside Stewardship. There is also a step-by-step YouTube video available.
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.
Defra is offering advice clinics across England for support on applying for Mid Tier 2023. Find out more and book onto a session in your area at: GOV.UK | Farm advice support for Countryside Stewardship (CS) Mid Tier 2023 applicants
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.
The CSFF (Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund) supports individuals who act as facilitators to bring together groups of farmers, foresters, and other land managers to improve environmental outcomes in their local area. Applications are currently closed but further rounds are expected.
There have been seven rounds of CSFF so far which have benefitted more than 200 groups. More detail on the fund can be found on: GOV.UK | Facilitation Fund 2023: Countryside Stewardship.