Countryside Stewardship scheme opened to more farmers under new rules

Defra has announced that thanks to new rules it has implemented more farmers will now able to apply for the mid-tier Countryside Stewardship scheme.

The removal of a £5,000 minimum claim value for applications has opened up the scheme to farmers who were previously excluded. The move is part of a campaign by Defra to attract more applications to the scheme.

Natural England who are responsible for managing the scheme, received just 2,314 mid-tier applications last year, with many farmers criticising the scheme’s tough rules and short application window.

In response, the government has revised its guidance notes and some of the scheme’s rules in a bid to make it more attractive to potential applicants.

One of the most significant changes is the suspension of the minimum application value mentioned about, making it easier for smaller, upland farmers to apply.

The changes have also extended the application window, which is running from 14 March to 30 September 2016.

The government also aim to minimise the administrative burden on applicants by reducing the portfolio of photos needed to support an application. Defra added that changes to when the soil sampling results needed to be submitted were also being considered.

“For capital works you do need a ‘before’ and ‘after’ photograph to demonstrate the item was needed and then delivered,” it said. “For capital items involving ground works you also need a ‘during’ photograph showing foundations.

“For land management options you may need photographs at critical stages to demonstrate that the work has been delivered, but this should not require thousands of photos to be taken.”

Claire Robinson, NFU countryside adviser, welcomed the rule changes but said there were still more improvements that could be made to the scheme to increase uptake.