Katie Hilton, Associate, Cheffins says:

"The RPA has today released a new round of funding for Countryside Stewardship. Previous experience tells us that this will be cautiously welcomed by farmers who have been deterred from participating in agri-environment schemes in recent years due to scheme complexity, delayed payments and the competitive nature of the Countryside Stewardship scheme.

Farmers and landowners may be tempted to take a wait-and-see approach to agri-environment, however, I would encourage them to seriously consider this new round of Countryside Stewardship funding. Although the easiest thing may be to do nothing, consider that this is EU money, available now, that with careful planning could provide a good return to the farm business whilst providing much-needed habitat and resources to our farm wildlife. The powers that be are working hard to rectify the delay to Countryside Stewardship payments, with responsibility for this having now been handed to the RPA. Some of the red tape has been loosened, with requirements for providing evidence more relaxed this year and more online functionality for applications.

DEFRA is now looking beyond Countryside Stewardship to the new Environmental Land Management system (ELMs), with tests and trials for new schemes already underway. The ELMs pilot phase is expected to last until 2024 with a new scheme currently planned for full roll-out in 2025. This means there is still a significant agri-environment gap to plug between now and then, with plenty of time for a five-year Countryside Stewardship agreement. With a range of options to choose from including Higher-Tier, Mid-Tier and the four simplified offers, I would encourage farmers to take a good look both at what they can offer the scheme and what it can offer them."