A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
by SIMON HALEY
With a renewed impetus for the UK leaving the EU as a result of the General Election, it brings into focus once more what the future of the subsidy regime will be for land based and agricultural business once the UK is outside of the EU.
Much is unknown about the future schemes, but a shakeup of the Basic Payment Scheme is undoubtedly coming, and current proposals are that this and the Countryside Stewardship (CS) Schemes will be replaced by an overarching New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS) from 2024/25.
For land managers there is still time to benefit from existing grant schemes to secure funding up until the introduction of the new schemes. Grant funding can form a vital part of enabling long term estate management strategies and with an increasing focus on the environment, will be a critical income stream for land managers to draw upon under the new policy framework for land and environmental management. The funding landscape can seem prohibitively bureaucratic, however, we encourage landowners to understand what they are entitled to and make applications to secure funding to see them through the ongoing period of uncertainty about the long term funding outlook.
With the window of opportunity narrowing on the current schemes, here our partner, Simon Haley from SRH Agribusiness Ltd, a grant funding expert, provides a rundown of the funding available next year in the final round of the Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme.
EXPERT VIEW – COUNTRYSIDE STEWARDSHIP
The CS scheme offers funding for farmers, woodland owners, foresters and land managers to make environmental improvements. There are various ‘tiers’ of funding which cover a range of activities from measures to conserve and restore wildlife, to managing flood risk, create and managing woodlands, preserving the character and historical features of the countryside and encouraging educational access.
The scheme has been open for application annually since 2015 and a further application round is confirmed for 2020. Uptake on this scheme has been low, and circa £100 million has been transferred out of the fund in the last 18 months. However, funds remain available and the low uptake to date means that the competitive scoring approach has not been triggered, with all applicants who have met the criteria over the past four years being successful in being offered an agreement.
The Government has committed that any grant funding contract signed by 31st December 2020 will be funded for the lifetime of its agreement (up to five years). This means that the next 12 months will be crucial to guarantee funding before the implementation of any new domestic policy under the Agriculture Bill from 2021/22.
Given that the proposed new scheme won’t open until 2024/25, landowners face a gap between funds if they do not have an application in by the end of next year. However, for those in receipt of grant funding from the CS scheme, this will continue to be a bridge until the introduction of NELMS. Furthermore, Government have committed that if the NELMS presents a more attractive opportunity for landowners, they will be able to transfer across at no penalty.
HOW DOES CS WORK?
The 2020 application window opens in February with a deadline of 31st July for agreements starting 1st January 2021.
You can choose which land parcels to enter i.e. it is not a blanket coverage across a holding, you should make the schemes work for your farm and your management practices. Grants for capital items (up to a ceiling of £10,000, and no maximum limit for works as part of a five-year Mid-Tier agreement alongside land management revenue options) are offered at 100% rate. There is no other grant that does this currently. Annual revenue payments are paid 12 months in arrears, whilst capital works need to be paid upfront then claimed back from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), with reimbursement made within two months of the claim. Examples of work include concreting, roofing, tracks, hedging, fencing, stonewalling.
MISS IT, MISS OUT
This is the final confirmed opportunity to apply for CS funding in its current form. There is a simple postcode checker to establish whether your holding falls in a high priority water quality targeting area, and if it does, then this means a Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer will be happy to visit and is more likely to write a letter of support for your application. This enhances the competitive element and is a good precursor as to levels of support for works applied for.
In Simon’s view, Countryside Stewardship offers fantastic opportunities and couldn’t be further from the ‘not fit for purpose’ headlines that are bandied around regards its suitability. There may be a few more hoops to jump through and more paperwork to fill in than the previous Environmental Stewardship schemes, but there are plenty of specialist advisers to help work through the red tape to achieve outputs and the funding available can help to enable the kind of environmentally focused land management that will become ever more important in the future.
Simon is hosting the Cultivate Conference on 29th January 2020 at Heaton Farm in Macclesfield with a great line up of speakers focused on rural business growth. To book tickets for the conference go to www.cultivateconference.co.uk