The deadline for requesting an application pack is fast approaching for anyone looking to apply for funding via the Countryside Stewardship grant scheme. The cut-off date for an online pack is 30 June 2020 and an online application with all supporting documents must be submitted no later than 31 July 2020.
James McFarlane, Savills food and farming consultant comments: “Although the deadline for Higher Tier applications has now passed, the application window is still open for Mid Tier agreements and Wildlife offers.”
So what is it and how does it work?
The Countryside Stewardship grant scheme is designed to reward land managers for maintaining and enhancing the environment at three levels referred to as tiers. Each tier requires different commitments from an applicant. For example the main priority for Mid Tier agreements is to protect and enhance the natural environment, in particular biodiversity and water quality.
Agreements run for a five-year period for management options, with two-year agreements for specific capital improvement works. The scheme is competitive, so all applications will be scored and ranked.
Here are some tips for preparing a successful application:
- Use the online search tool (https://www.gov.uk/countryside-stewardship-grants) to see the options available and work out which ones complement your existing farming system/management systems/machinery.
- Review priority habitat layers for the farm and consider what options are best suited to these as the process is competitive.
- Keep it simple. Choosing a few options can provide an income stream, benefit the environment and be straight forward to manage, overcomplicated options can result in challenges delivering them and often incur significant costs.
- Consider what capital works can be included within the agreement, such as fencing.
- At all times bear in mind the costs of delivering the options – is the gross margin better than some break crops and could it therefore replace non-profitable break crops or help deal with grass weeds, for example black grass?
- There is not a requirement to enter the whole holding into an agreement and therefore different blocks of land can be entered into different agreements, however only one agreement can be applied for per year.
- Ensure mapping is correct or submit RLE1 forms prior to applying.
- It is important to understand the management prescriptions of the options before entering into them – what you can/can’t do and when you can do it. There will be requirements to keep records so put a system in place and update it regularly.
- If you are entering land on a tenancy, ensure that you have consent in your agreement, a long enough agreement and that it is countersigned by the landlord, if required.
If my application is successful when will I be paid?
An annual claim, confirming the location and area of options that year, has to be submitted in order to be paid, which is done online through Rural Payments, with the deadline for claims normally on 15 May.
Payments are annual with the payment window opening on 1 December, in the year of the claim, running through to 30 June the following year. It could therefore be up to 18 months before you are paid anything, so ensure that you can manage the cash flow requirements of the agreement during this time.