Following months of campaigning by the NFU, Defra has announced that payment rates across the Environmental Land Management schemes will be made equal for upland and lowland farms where they are carrying out the same actions.
The announcement also covered reviewing additional upland CS options to improve delivery and better communications to upland farmers.
The ELM (Environmental Land Management) announcement on 26 January contained a wealth of information. It provided certainty that the familiar CS (Countryside Stewardship) offer will continue, even as it evolves with the aim of improving it. That assures many that support will continue for areas like organic and access.
Defra aims to have the full offer available in late 2024 for agreements in 2025. The prospectus goes on to set out how it will keep SFI and CS under constant review beyond 2025, from the options to the payment rates and the delivery of the scheme.
The full ELM prospectus sets out payments rates, where possible, for the range of activities that Defra intends to cover. Initially, SFI aligns with CS payment rates. They are based on an income foregone plus costs calculation. Defra indicate that in SFI they will, in the future, incentivise farmers to carry actions in combinations, or at scale, or levels of ambition that are more likely to deliver successful, significant results. After 2024 Defra plan to regularly review payment rates.
As new schemes review is positive, however, farmers need certainty about the long term offer.
How SFI and CS will work together – single online service
Defra is aiming for a single integrated online service where farmers can select the combination of actions across the two schemes that work for them. Farmers apply for the right options, rather than worry about which scheme they are labelled.
There will be one version of the option, so there will not be different rules in SFI and CS. There should be parity of payment rates for the similar actions across the two schemes. Defra will not allow payment for the same action twice. There is work to be done to make the transition as smooth as possible.
SFI – what are the new standards?
Defra has brought forward six new SFI standards, more than originally planned. These will be available in the summer following additional development.
The new standards are:
- hedgerows standard
- integrated pest management standard
- nutrient management standard
- arable and horticultural land standard
- improved grassland standard
- low input grassland standard
Farmers have flexibility to choose the combination of actions from within the standards that works for their farm. The new standards will be more flexible than similar CS options. They are less prescriptive (e.g. removal of dates for actions to be undertaken, wider eligibility, removal of some area restrictions) and allow farmers to decide how to achieve the standard’s aims.
The current offer includes the SFI arable and horticulture, and grassland soils standards; moorland standard; and the animal health and welfare review. These standards will remain as they are with a group of soil actions needing to be completed to secure a payment.
Defra intend to broaden out the SFI offer, potentially bringing more current CS options into SFI or adding new actions. The full and updated scope of SFI will be available in 2024.
Actions and payment rates for the new standards
Below is a summary of the new SFI standards based on the outline provided in the Defra ELM prospectus (January 2023). The prospectus does not contain definitions or supporting guidance, which could impact on interpretation. The requirements could change before they are finalised.
|SFI Action||Payment rate|
|Access and record hedgerow condition||£3 per 100m – one side|
|Manage hedgerows so there's a range of heights and widths||£10 per 100m – one side|
|An average of 1 tree per 100m||£10 per 100m – one side|
|SFI action||Payment rate|
|IPM (Integrated Pest Management) assessment and produce an IPM plan||£989/year|
|Flower-rich grass areas||£673/ha|
|No use of insecticide||£45/ha|
Nutrient Management Standard
|SFI action||Payment rate|
|Nutrient Management assessment and plan||£589/year|
|Legumes (improved grassland) growing during spring and early autumn||£102/ha|
|Legume Fallow (arable) that flowers during late spring and summer||£593/ha|
Arable and Horticultural Land Standard
|SFI action||Payment rate|
|Pollen and nectar flower mix – flowing spring/summer||£614/ha|
|Winter bird food (arable)||£732/ha|
|Grassy field corners and blocks (arable)||£590/ha|
|4m-12m grass buffer strips on arable land||£451/ha|
Improved Grassland standard
|SFI action||Payment rate|
|Grassy field corners and blocks (grassland)||£333/ha|
|Winter bird food (grassland)||£474/ha|
|4m-12m grassy buffer strips on grassland||£235/ha|
Low Input Grassland Standard
|SFI action||Payment rate|
|Very low nutrient inputs||£151/ha|
SFI management payment
The SFI management payment was announced at the Oxford Farming Conference.
Defra are introducing an SFI Management Payment in recognition of the administration costs of participating in the scheme. It also supports smaller farms, which are currently under-represented in SFI.
The payment applies to the first 50ha in the scheme at £20/ha. Therefore, farmers could receive an additional £1,000 per year. The payment will be backdated for all SFI agreements starting in 2022.
The payment is not available to everyone in SFI. Defra has decided that the payment will not go to land in the moorland standard as ‘planning or preparation activities such as the moorland standard are not eligible’. SFI pilot agreements are not eligible.
There are further details to be worked through on how the payment will work in practice e.g., will a farm business with multiple SFI agreements get more than one payment? The NFU will continue to engage with RPA and Defra to work through these issues.
CS and CS Plus
Instead of creating a new Local Nature Recovery Scheme Defra will take CS forward, making changes and improvements to deliver the same ambitions. The ‘term CS’ plus is being used to describe supporting collaborative delivery that can have greater impact.
For CS, Defra’s intent is to expand the scope of the offer, adding more actions (or options). Once the England Woodland Offer is closed those actions will be available in CS.
CS will be improved over the next two years to allow changes to existing agreements through adding in activity, move across to quarterly payments, apply for CS alongside SFI. Access to CS Higher Tier options will be improved. CS will evolve to include local targeting, payments by results and supporting local join up of activity (described as CS plus).
Applying for CS in 2023
CS Higher Tier applications have now closed.
CS Mid Tier applications are open until 18 August 2023. These are for agreements starting on 1 January 2024.
You can find out more about applying for CS MT and Wild Offers at: GOV.UK | Mid Tier grants and Wildlife Offers 2023: Countryside Stewardship
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
The CS revenue claim declaration window is open. You need to make a claim to receive your agreement payment. Information about making a claim is available at: GOV.UK | Make a revenue claim
Following the Farming Minister's announcement at the Oxford Conference there has been an average increase of 10% for CS revenue payment rates and a 48% average payment increase to CS capital item payments. Thanks to successful NFU lobbying, CS capital item payments will be backdated to all agreements starting from 1 January 2023, and for future agreements funding limits for Capital Grant groups have now been removed.
There are several key updates for CS 2023/2024 to be aware of. The Catchment Sensitive Farming offer will now be available across the county for high, medium, and low priority areas for water and air quality. Changes have been made to the CS Mid Tier online application process. The online annual revenue claim is also changing and will be referred to as a claim declaration.
Some Higher Tier options will be brought into Mid-Tier and the Wildlife Packages will be extended. New agreements will have three years to complete capital works. The annual revenue claim will be replaced by an annual declaration. There will be a refreshed facilitation fund offer.
Looking further ahead Defra will improve CS options so they become more outcome focussed and flexible. Then Defra will review and update the options. There will be a regular scheduled review. The full and updated scope of CS will be available in 2024.
Find out more by reading our guide to Countryside Stewardship: Information on Countryside Stewardship 2023/24
Future activity to be funded in SFI/CS
Defra has set out a range of future activity to be funded in ELMs. Examples include on grassland managing flood plain meadows, and scrapes. Defra are still exploring no till, direct drilling and precision farming approaches. On moorland manging sphagnum moss, minimising bare ground and supporting individual scattered trees are in scope. Agroforestry support is still planned, along with stone walls and earth banks.
There are several water body actions being introduced or explored. These include:
- managing grassland for water quality
- managing water levels in lakes
- managing bunds and swales
There are actions proposed for non-native species, and coastal cliff habitats. Options are being explored for permissive access and an extended educational access offer.
Defra has not provided a clear timeline for the introduction of these. Our assumption is they will be available for agreements starting in 2025. The ELM prospectus does not set out which scheme these actions will be available under. That will be part of the option’s development.
Currently, there is another call for bids to develop landscape recovery bids. There will be a further round in 2024.
Defra is aiming for 25 projects from the next round focussed on net zero, protected sites and habitat creation.
You can find out more by visiting: ELMs: Everything you need to know about the Landscape Recovery scheme | NFUonline
Defra aims to support private finance and is designing the ELM schemes, so they dovetail with private schemes and markets. This Spring Defra will publish an update to the Green Finance Strategy.
Currently private finance is allowed on SFI agreement land, subject to conditions.
Defra’s ambition is for many of ELMs actions to be easy to apply for, without the need for an adviser. Defra will pay for advisory support for certain actions, where needed.
Defra’s agencies will provide support, where this is most appropriate. Defra will expand support for local facilitators.
Defra state that they will manage the budget in a flexible and transparent way. Defra has not made firm allocations of budget to each scheme. Defra referenced the annual reporting requirements in the Agriculture Act.
Defra is reforming its approach to farm regulation. Catchment Sensitive Farming offer now covers the whole country. Defra are working to ensure regulation dovetails with incentives on offer. The regulatory baseline will continue to evolve over time. The announcement did not give further detail.