Calls for clarity over Countryside Stewardship delays

Wild poppies in a hedgerow in north Norfolk. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Wild poppies in a hedgerow in north Norfolk. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Delays in decision-making for environmental stewardship deals are causing concern ahead of spring cropping, according to a farm business consultant.

Farmers choosing land management options which prioritise the environment can apply to receive financial support from Natural England's Countryside Stewardship scheme.

But eight weeks after mid-tier agreements were expected to start Jason Cantrill, a farm business consultant at property agency Strutt & Parker, said none of the 10 applications submitted from the firm's Norwich office had so far been confirmed as successful.

'Farmers and their advisors are getting increasingly concerned by the fact that they are still in the dark about the status of their applications, particularly if it includes any spring cropping options. For example, anyone who needs to establish a nectar flower mix must get this drilled between 15 March and 15 April, so farmers need to know quickly if they have been accepted to enable them to plan.

'The difficulty is that farmers are seemingly being expected to incur costs by buying seed and drilling it, based on the assumption they will be given an agreement, but their applications may yet be rejected.'

Mr Cantrill called on Natural England to explain what is holding up agreements and issue clear guidance on when farmers will be told if they have been successful or not.

'If we know that agreements are going to be offered in the next two or three weeks then people still have time to get their plans in place,' he said. 'However, if it is going to take another six weeks then that is going to make life very difficult.'