Countryside Stewardship will replace the outgoing Natural England Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) schemes, as well as the Forestry Commission’s English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS) and the grants from Catchments Sensitive Farming (CSF). It will contribute around £900million to help improve the countryside and environment.
As with previous stewardship schemes the main focus for Countryside Stewardship will be biodiversity, with water quality, the historic environment and educational access amongst other key priorities. Most of the agreements will last for 5 years.
There will be no “Entry Level” equivalent in the new grant scheme, with the new scheme using a targeted approach for competitive funding, much the same as the current Higher Level Scheme. It is hoped that this will lead to farmers and landowners entering schemes that address the key priorities for environmental management on their land. Natural England hope that by making the scheme targeted in this way it will deliver better value for taxpayers’ money.
Countryside Stewardship will be made up of three tiers. The Higher Tier, which will delivery similar objectives to the current (HLS). This will be targeted towards the most environmentally sensitive land and woodland areas, and a full suite of options will be available to meet individual, complex management requirements. A Mid Tier will replace the current ELS and will look to address priorities that are important in the wider surrounding countryside, such as improving habitat for farmland birds. There will be a new Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package available to landowners which will be accessible under both the Mid and Higher tier schemes. Natural England states that farmers and land managers who apply for the Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package in the Mid Tier will score more highly in their Countryside Stewardship Application.
A Lower Tier of capital works such as Hedgerow planting will be available. The “Hedgerows and Boundaries” grant will offer a maximum of £5,000 per application for farmers who do not have a Higher or Mid Tier Scheme or any form of Environmental Stewardship scheme. There will also be water capital grants available in 2015 of up to £10,000 per holding, which will be aimed at reducing water pollution from agriculture.
All applications will be completed online, with the applications being scored to see if an agreement can be offered. More information on the scoring of agreements will be released by Natural England in the New Year.
A list of the new options has been released, with some options increasing in value whilst others have been reduced. For example Nectar Flower mixes have increased in value, from £450/ha under ELS/HLS to £511/ha under CS. Basic overwintered stubbles have decreased in value from £120/ha to £84/ha.
Defra have stated that they plan to allow farmers and land manager to apply for Countryside Stewardship from July 2015 for agreements to start on the 1st January 2016.