The 2021 Application window for Countryside Stewardship opened on 9 February, with a number of changes being introduced for the latest agreements.  This is our guide to the latest changes to get you up to date for this year’s scheme.

With BPS set to reduce, now is a great time to consider Countryside Stewardship as an alternative income stream. Farmers applying in the current application window will have a guaranteed income stream, with fixed yearly payments until 2027.

If you have previously looked at Countryside Stewardship but found it did not suit your business, it may be time to take another look, as this year’s changes could make the scheme more suitable for you.

Countryside Stewardship is an excellent stepping stone to prepare your business for the future Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, which is due to be rolled out in 2025. The Government guaranteed in 2020 that farmers entering new Countryside Stewardship agreements will be given the option to end their agreement early in order to enter the ELM scheme if they wish.

New Options

2021 sees the addition of five new options for Mid Tier, summarised below.

Note that options for reducing ammonia emissions will be delivered through the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) initiative, and require support from your local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer (CSFO).

ED1 – Educational Access
Provision of educational visits for school pupils. Payment on a per-visit basis for between 1 and 25 visits per year

AQ1 – Automatic Slurry Scraper
Install a new automatic slurry scraper to existing livestock housing

AQ2 –  Low Ammonia Emission Flooring for Livestock Buildings
Replace existing solid or slatted floors with a suitable low emission flooring product proven to reduce ammonia emissions by 25%

TE4 – Supply and Plant a Tree
This option was previously available for woodland planting, but now has new opportunities in Mid Tier agreements for the creation of shelterbelts to reduce ammonia emissions from housed livestock and slurry storage

TE5 – Supplement for use of individual tree-shelters
Available in conjunction with TE4 – supply and plant a tree

Changes to Option Requirements

While payment rates have not changed, Countryside Stewardship land management options no longer have requirements that include prescriptive dates, sward heights and mixtures. Instead, the options have aims which the agreement holder must seek to achieve. This change is partly to respond to criticism that the Scheme is too prescriptive and seems to indicate a change in direction towards payments being made for the delivery of outcomes in the future scheme ELMS.

This change gives farmers more flexibility in managing certain aspects of the options and more control over the successful management of their options.

Changes to Capital Funding

Alongside the addition of four new capital options in Mid Tier, the funding cap for stand-alone capital agreements has been raised to £20,000 for each of Water Quality, Air Quality and Boundaries. Farmers can apply to more than one of these grant areas, meaning the maximum available funding for stand-alone capital items is £60,000.

The capital grant offer has been expanded to cover 67 capital items available under full Mid Tier agreements. Capital only applications can be made online and will be available in conjunction with the non-competitive, land management only Wildlife Offers. Capital only offers will also be made available to existing Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement holders where this does not conflict with their existing agreement.

The capital funding available under a full Mid Tier agreement has also changed, with a funding cap of £120,000 being introduced for 2021. This will limit the funding available in any single application.

Changes for Upland Farms

Option WD4 – Management of Wood Pasture and Parkland, has been changed to allow for use in Upland areas, with an increased payment rate for upland farmers. Defra has also announced changes to eligibility criteria for option UP2 – Management of rough grazing for birds, to increase the number of farmers who will be eligible for this option.

This is a fantastic opportunity for upland farmers to receive funding for maintaining wood pasture and rough grazing habitats where this was not previously accessible under Countryside Stewardship.

For Mid-Tier to qualify for WD4 the land must be mapped on the Priority Habitat Inventory as wood pasture and parkland and for UP2 as Upland bird breeding area on MAGIC.

Get in touch

If you think Countryside Stewardship could be for you, why not get in touch to discuss how to get the most out of the scheme on your farm? We have a nationwide team of advisers who will be happy to help you through every step of the application process.

For an initial discussion, please contact Zoe Morgan or call 07771 676615.