Countryside Stewardship: Rural Development Programme

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What is Countryside Stewardship?
The existing Environmental Stewardship and English Woodland Grant schemes are being replaced by Countryside Stewardship as the environmental land management scheme under the RDP for England. The scheme allows farmers and land managers to voluntarily apply for grants and funding used to protect the environment by, for example, increasing biodiversity, improving water quality or converting to organic farming.

DEFRA will determine various environmental priorities for different parts of England and applicants for the grants must be able to show that they will use the funds to meet those priorities. A list of options will be available to applicants with standardised grant amounts.

There are 3 main types of Countryside Stewardship agreements and only one agreement may be entered into per holding:

Higher Tier Agreements
These relate to specific sites requiring the highest levels of environmental management, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). The agreements will generally be for five years but could last up to 10 or 20 years.

Mid Tier Agreements
These relate to a specific area and may be submitted by a group application from multiple land owners. Agreements will be for 5 years.

Lower Tier
Various smaller grants are available that are not linked to a multi-year agreement. These include:

  • Facilitation funding available to organisations and individuals assisting with co-ordinating farmers or land managers to make area agreements encompassing a number of holdings. The area must usually be at least 2,000 hectares and include at least 4 adjoining holdings.
  • Capital grants for protecting the environment, for example:

– up to £5000 for restoration of boundary features, such as stone walls and hedgerows
– up to £10,000 for improving water quality and water management – applications can be made by farmers and land managers
– improving and protecting areas of woodland – leaseholders and tenants may apply with the consent of the landowner
– protecting pollination and farm wildlife

Applying for Countryside Stewardship
The application window for many of the smaller and lower tier grants has already opened and some of these close as early as April 2015.

DEFRA intends to start the applications for mid and higher tier agreements in July 2015. All new multi-year agreements will start on 1 January in each year, the first new agreements will commence on 1 January 2016.

There is a strict timeframe for applications and if the deadline is missed applications will not be accepted until the following year.

Who will manage the schemes?
Natural England, the Rural Payments Agency and the Forestry Commission will be responsible for the running of the Countryside Stewardship schemes.