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Countryside Stewardship Scheme

2015 launches the new English Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS). The scheme will contribute £900 million to rural businesses to help them improve the countryside environment. It is open to all eligible farmers, land managers, land owners, and tenants. It will replace:

– Environmental Stewardship (ES)
– the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS)
– capital grants from the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) programme

The scheme is due to launch in July 2015 with applications being accepted between July-September, with agreements/payments in 2016.

There is also a Preliminary Countryside Stewardship Scheme running from February until July to bridge the gap, with a focus on woodland creation, planning, and tree health. It is beneficial to use the Preliminary CSS to generate a Management Plan which will help secure further grants with the main CSS from July onwards.

 

Structure of the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme:

Unlike Environmental Stewardship, there is no “entry level” tier that is open to all. Instead, there are two main competitive tiers with a lower tier option of capital grants:

Higher Tier: targeted at the highest priority sites, but also including all woodland agreements. Higher Tier looks very similar to Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), with a comparable range of options designed to deliver significant environmental benefits. The focus is on SSSIs and sites that can help meet the Government’s Water Framework Directive obligations. Many Higher Tier options require a Management Plan, which must be in place prior to application.

Mid Tier:  these agreements concentrate on delivering environmental gains at a landscape scale. Natural England provide direction on what the priorities are in each locality and score applications on how well they meet those priorities. Other than this, there is no input from local advisors; professional advice will be key to making a successful application. Only those applications with the highest scores will be offered an agreement.

One-year capital grant agreements will be offered in-addition to land management agreements:

Water capital grants: provide funding to create infrastructure to help reduce agricultural water pollution, similar to the successful Catchment Sensitive Farming Scheme. These grants will only be available in priority catchments. Mostly available from 2016 onwards, however some grants will be available from March to April 2015 but not through the online application process.

Woodland creation grants: available for new planting. The minimum threshold is 3Ha of woodland with planting blocks no smaller than 0.5 hectares, or where the woodland creation work is to address water quality or flood risk issues, the minimum threshold is 1Ha of woodland with a minimum block size of 0.1Ha. Woodland Creations over 10Ha must have an approved Forest Management Plan.

Universal capital grants: provide up to £5000 per agreement for hedge and wall restoration, but will not be available for those with either a multi-year Countryside Stewardship agreement (as they have their own capital works programme) or a current HLS or ELS agreement.

 

Find out more about the Countryside Stewardship Scheme here.