New country stewardship scheme has opened for business

George Eustace

The Countryside Stewardship scheme has opened for farmers, foresters and land managers to request 2019 application packs for grants rewarding environmental benefits.

The scheme will provide a viable, long-term source of income to those who deliver environmental benefits on their land – including habitats for wildlife, pollinator plots and increased biodiversity. Improvements have been introduced this year to make the scheme easier to apply for.

Farmers and land managers who are new to taking on environmental work or with expired or expiring Environmental Stewardship agreements can apply to the Rural Payments Agency for packs covering a range of grants tailored to farm types and particular environmental benefits.

The introduction of the Agriculture Bill last September signalled a step-change in how farmers will be paid once we leave the EU. Funding for environmental benefits and public goods will be at the front and centre of future policy, meaning those who get into CS agreements now will be well-placed to benefit from the future scheme.

The new Environmental Land Management system is due to be introduced 2024/2025. This will follow three years of piloting the new system nationally.

Farming Minister George Eustice said: “We have taken steps to simplify the Countryside Stewardship scheme to make it easier to access. As we start to move future farming policy towards schemes that deliver sustainable food production, entering a Countryside Stewardship agreement can be an important first step and all agreements are guaranteed for their full lifetime.”

Improvements to CS in 2019 include a simplified guidance handbook, and applicants can also apply for all of the wildlife offers online this year. CS agreements are flexible – applicants can choose which parts of the land go into an agreement, freeing up other fields or assets for different priorities.