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Natural England have announced that they will be piloting four new ‘simplified’ offers for Countryside Stewardship 2018.
The offers will provide a new way for farmers to enter land in to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and are targeted according to farm type: Lowland grazing, Upland, Mixed Farming and Arable. Natural England say that they have been specially designed to be simpler than the existing mid-tier or higher-tier schemes, a response to the common complaint that entering CSS is too complicated and requires excessive paperwork.
How is it simpler?
As there are only four offers, and a short list of options for each one, it is easier to identify which may be the best fit for your land and business. Applicants are required to select a minimum of just two or three options per agreement but may select more if they wish.
Currently only the Arable Offer can be applied for online. For the rest, applications are via paper forms, but Natural England say that the process will be much shorter and more straightforward than producing a Mid-tier or Higher-tier application. They have also reduced the evidence requirements to make the application process less time consuming.
Another major difference between the new offers and the existing Mid- or Higher-tier Countryside Stewardship schemes is that they are not competitive. Previously, all Stewardship applications were scored and only the highest scoring applications were granted an agreement. The new offers are not scored and provided that your application meets the eligibility criteria, you will be entered in to the scheme.
Although a simplified scheme may sound attractive, the new offers will not suit everyone. There are no capital items available with any of the offers. There is one option that covers some work on hedgerows, but if you have extensive capital works in the pipeline you are likely to find that a Mid- or Higher-tier application is worth the extra time and effort spent on the application.
Who is it for
The offers are designed to be accessible to most types and sizes of holdings. As for all Stewardship schemes, the land you are entering must be registered to your SBI. Each offer has slightly different eligibility requirements, so check the guidelines for your chosen offer carefully before applying.
You may only apply for one offer per SBI per year and the land entered cannot overlap with other agreements. In addition, options applied for cannot overlap with EFA land.
You also cannot apply if your SBI:
Natural England are hoping that the offers will attract applicants who are new to Countryside Stewardship, including those who have been deterred from entering in the past due to the nature of the application process. It may prove attractive to farmers coming out of an old Environmental Stewardship agreement, who are less likely to need funding for capital works and may be looking for a ‘lighter’ way to continue participating in a Stewardship Scheme. For others, it could prove a convenient ‘stop-gap’ between an old agreement and the as-yet unknown opportunities that could emerge post-Brexit.
Making an application
The online application forms for the Arable Offer will be available from the 20th of February 2018. Application packs must be requested by 31st of May and the deadline for all applications is 31st of July 2018.
If you have any questions about the new offers and whether they may be a good choice for your business, please contact one of our Farm Business Team who would be happy to provide advice and assistance.