Some farmers may have been deterred from entering Countryside Stewardship schemes in recent years, considering them to be overly complicated and onerous. The uncertainty surrounding post-Brexit agricultural support has undoubtedly made the prospect of applying even less appealing.
Now the picture has changed and this could be a good time to take another look. So what’s different?
Defra has released four new simplified ways of entering the scheme. The new packages available are for arable, pastoral, mixed and upland farms. These are non-competitive, provided minimum criteria are met.
Focusing on the arable scheme, the minimum requirements are aimed at farmland birds and pollinators and require one hectare of nectar mix or flower rich margins/plots and two hectares of winter bird food per 100 hectares of farmed land.
Payments have increased significantly from the HLS rates. The HF12 (enhanced wild bird seed mix) was paid at £475 per hectare. The equivalent winter bird food is £640 per hectare, with the added option of supplementary winter feeding (AB12) at £632 a tonne for every two hectares of winter bird food.
Options such as hedge management, 4-6m margins, skylark plots and cultivated plots for arable plants can be bolted onto the core options listed above. Mid-tier and higher-tier schemes will still be available for more complicated applications – where historic, wet grassland or organic options are required, for example.
In his recent speech, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced that the Government will continue support for Countryside Stewardship agreements entered into before our departure from the EU. Assurance was also given that participants will not be unfairly disadvantaged when the transition is made into future arrangements.
Looking ahead, we know far greater emphasis in terms of subsidy payments will be placed on environmental measures and having a consistent source of income over the next five years from a simple Countryside Stewardship scheme will help over the transitional period.