Farmers must work together to win environment grants

An aerial view opf the upper Wensum Valley, shot from a drone camera.

Part of the upper Wensum Valley, where a cluster of collaborating farmers was formed with the help of the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund - Credit: Pensthorpe Conservation Trust

East Anglian farmers have been urged to join forces to apply for renewed government funding for large-scale environmental projects.

A sixth round of the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund will open for applications in December.

The £2.5m fund encourages farmers and landowners to "work together and share knowledge to protect and enhance their environment".

Successful "facilitation" groups will also offer training, support and advice to potential applicants for agri-environment schemes.

So far, the previous five rounds of the fund have helped 139 groups with more than 3,800 members.

They include collaborative Norfolk farming "clusters" working in the Upper Wensum, Wissey and Glaven river catchments.

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The next round of funding is expected to invest in at least another 30 groups.

Farming minister Victoria Prentis said: “By getting involved in Countryside Stewardship, farmers and landowners alike can play a crucial role in supporting our efforts to improve the environment and create cleaner, greener landscapes.

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“With today’s announcement we intend to provide sufficient time for potential groups to form and think about their objectives and local priorities, ahead of the fund opening in December. I encourage all interested individuals to get involved."

Defra said this year’s fund includes support for new environmental priorities such as the improvement of air quality through slurry removal, reduction of ammonia emissions, tree planting and shelters, and managing beaver activity - following last month's launch of a 12-week government consultation on proposals to reintroduce beavers to English rivers.

Rural Payments Agency chief executive Paul Caldwell said the guidance for the scheme will be refreshed to make it "clearer and easier to access the fund".

Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, welcomed the announcement of the new funding round.

He added: “Last month Natural England published an evaluation report of the fund which demonstrated how the new, strong connections between group members facilitated by the fund have enabled coordinated action to restore and manage habitat at a scale capable of encouraging environmental recovery – boosting natural resilience for wildlife, farming and livelihoods.”

The application window opens in December 2021, with a closing date of January 19, 2022.

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