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Green payment scheme could help farmers bridge subsidy ‘funding gap’

PUBLISHED: 14:24 18 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:24 18 February 2019

The Countryside Stewardship scheme pays farmers for work to improve wildlife and biodiversity on their land.  Picture: James Bass

The Countryside Stewardship scheme pays farmers for work to improve wildlife and biodiversity on their land. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2016

The government’s flagship agri-environment scheme has opened for 2019 applications – offering payments which could help farmers bridge a looming “funding gap”.

The Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme offers farmers, foresters and land managers a long-term source of income in return for delivering environmental benefits on their land – including wildlife habitats, pollinator plots and increased biodiversity.

Defra said funding for “public goods” such as these will be at the “front and centre” of post-Brexit farming policy, meaning those who get into CS agreements now will be “well-placed to benefit from the future scheme”.

The new Environmental Land Management System (ELMS) is due to be widely introduced in 2024/2025 after a three-year national pilot.

But as the current EU system of direct subsidies under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) is being phased out from 2021, rural agents said farmers should consider CS as a way of bridging the “inevitable” funding gap.

Jason Cantrill, farm consultant in the Norwich Office of Strutt and Parker, said: “Countryside Stewardship has had its issues over recent years, but farmers should not rule it out without considering how it might benefit their business.

“Farmers are being told that BPS payments will be phased out from 2021 and, at this stage, it looks likely that it may be three or four years after this date before ELMS is widely available. So CS could provide a useful income stream as farmers navigate the change from direct support to payments for the provision of public goods.

READ MORE: Farming must change to avert a ‘catastrophic collapse’ of insect life, says study

“Some people may be thinking it is better to wait and see what the new scheme looks like. However, the government has given assurances that if any future scheme is better than the mid-tier scheme then there will be the option to switch.”

Farmers can apply for a Mid Tier agreement which offers the most flexibility in the options they can choose from, while Higher Tier applications will be needed for more complex land in environmentally significant sites, which require support from Natural England or the Forestry Commission.

Alternatively, farmers can apply for one of four streamlined “wildlife offers”, where the management options are more limited, but the application process is simpler.

“In addition to a wide range of land management options, capital grants of up to £10,000 are also on offer for a range of work that will contribute to efforts to raise water quality,” said Mr Cantrill.

“This includes concrete yard renewal, roofing for silage and muck heaps, watercourse crossings and hard bases for livestock drinkers and feeders.”

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