Taken for granted
"Political agreement on the main elements of CAP has now been reached. However, Defra must complete its own consultation on CAP reform before we know exactly how it will be applied in the UK."
The Rural Development Program
Political agreement on the main elements of CAP has now been reached. However, Defra must complete its own consultation on CAP reform before we know exactly how it will be applied in the UK. Thus the Rural Development Program, which encompasses the majority of grants with which we are familiar (Environmental Stewardship Schemes, Woodland Grant Schemes, Rural Economy Grant etc), is now in what is described as a “transitional phase” – this essentially means that new applicants will not be considered, barring some specific circumstances, until CAP reform is adopted in the UK.
Even Environmental Stewardship?
There are some situations which allow new applicants in to Environmental Stewardship Schemes, for example an application to enter land which was in an old Countryside Stewardship Agreements may be allowed to enter into a Higher Level Stewardship Agreement. However, a ‘typical’ Entry Level Stewardship application or even a renewal, if made, could be rejected until the CAP reform is adopted by Defra.
What about the replacement scheme?
The ELS/HLS’s replacement details are still quite unclear beyond the working title of the “New Environmental Land Management Scheme” – a name that will change before it is adopted. The new scheme will favour schemes which achieve “multiple environmental benefits” e.g. one which improves water quality and biodiversity. Furthermore, it appears Defra are also looking at area specific agreements to promote clusters of coordinated agreements to address key targets. It will be a surprise if flood prevention does not feature quite highly in its aims. Finally, the greening requirements of the Basic Payment Scheme (the SFP replacement) are likely to resemble ‘old’ ELS options and so it might prove that the new stewardship scheme is not quite as universally attractive.
How long will this take?
The new RDP is due to start in January 2015, however, Defra are indicating that due to the time required to set up IT systems and to make sufficient information available to applicants it is unlikely that agreements under the new scheme will commence until 1st January 2016.
What about woodlands?
The transitional phase catches these as well. Woodland Management Grants and Woodland Creation Grants are now closed for new applicants (although the WCG might reopen – pending review) but Woodland Improvements Grants, Woodland Regeneration Grants and Woodland Planning Grants (amongst others) remain open for new applicants until September 2014. It is important to note that all future grant funded woodland work funded under the next RDP from 2015 – 2016 will require a management plan. Thus, now might be the opportunity to put one in place and this would be eligible for funding under the Woodland Planning Grant (WPG).
Whilst the RDP is worked through there are some alternative sources of grant funding for worthy projects in rural areas. The Catchment Sensitive Farming Capital Grants Scheme remains open to new applicants until 31 March 2014, albeit with a greatly reduced budget. This provides funding to farmers in specific areas of the county and provides grants of up to £10,000 to reduce water diffuse pollution – especially useful for livestock farmers. Alternative, non government schemes also exist such as The Prince’s Countryside Fund which provides grants of up to £50,000 and opens for a new round of funding from March 2014. This seeks to fund projects which tackle rural isolation, decline in rural communities, low farming incomes and access to training. It is also a relief to note that, after considerable delay, the Renewable Heat Incentive will finally be payable for renewable heating systems installed in domestic properties from Spring 2014.
Whilst there is still funding available for certain woodland projects, anyone considering entering into an environmental stewardship prior to 1st January 2016 should only do so if it is clear their scheme would have significant environmental benefits. If this is not the case then it would be sensible to wait and see what impact the CAP reform, and the flooding, has on the RDP.