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Defra simplifies Countryside Stewardship options to boost wildlife-friendly farming

PUBLISHED: 14:54 30 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:02 30 November 2017

Wildflowers growing on the edge of a field in the Norfolk countryside.  Picture: James Bass

Wildflowers growing on the edge of a field in the Norfolk countryside. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2016

Four simplified Countryside Stewardship (CS) offers will be launched in the New Year to encourage more farmers to seek funding for wildlife-friendly work.

Environment secretary Michael Gove  at the second annual CLA Rural Business Conference in Westminster. Picture: ANDREW HENDRYEnvironment secretary Michael Gove at the second annual CLA Rural Business Conference in Westminster. Picture: ANDREW HENDRY

When it was introduced, the government scheme was criticised by many East Anglian farmers who felt its complex rules and stringent regulations prevented a successful application – making the uptake much lower than the preceding Entry and Higher Level Stewardship (ELS and HLS) schemes.

Earlier this week, environment secretary Michael Gove announced simplifications to CS which would be “just the beginning” of reforms to the system of farm support payments, currently regulated by the EU, which he described as “inefficient, ineffective, inequitable, and environmentally harmful”.

“I know that one of the major reasons why there has been such a relatively low take-up of appropriate environmental land management schemes so far has been the dreadful way in which we in government have actually administered them,” he said.

The government has now published the first details of the four new simplified CS offers which will aim to encourage more landowners to apply for stewardship funding.

They include packages for arable, mixed, upland and lowland grazing farms, each containing a series of popular and effective options to boost wildlife including creating flower-rich margins, buffer strips, and nesting plots.

Defra says streamlined evidence checks and shorter application forms will simplify the application process, with half as much paperwork as before.

The scheme is non-competitive, meaning all farmers who meet the eligibility requirements can get a five-year agreement to deliver a minimum of three options. These new offers will complement the existing Higher Tier and Mid Tier offers.

Andrew Fundell, an agri-business consultant at the Norwich office of Brown and Co, said: “It is definitely an improvement. A ‘light touch’ is how they described it and, for those who were frightened off applying for CS, this will go a long way to addressing those concerns.”

Mr Gove announced the changes earlier this week at the Country Land and Business Association’s (CLA’s) rural business conference.

CLA president Tim Breitmeyer, who farms in East Anglia near the Cambridgeshire-Essex border, said: “Farmers and landowners want to continue providing the country with high quality, affordable food while protecting the environment and supporting wildlife.

“We welcome the secretary of state’s commitment to streamlining and focusing support into the areas most needed, and we look forward to working with him to drive up participation in crucial schemes to protect and enhance landscapes and the environment.”

For more details, see the Defra website.

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