The new environmental stewardship scheme will be important to the nation’s countryside, the NFU said today, but some key decisions have still to be made which will affect how the scheme will be implemented on farm.
Following today’s publication of Natural England’s Countryside Stewardship Scheme guidance, NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “We recognise the importance of the role of the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme enabling farmers to continue to maintain and enhance biodiversity, water, soils and to address challenges such as climate change. In addition, for those coming out of the current environmental stewardship schemes and not able to enter the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme, the launch of new capital grants for hedges and boundaries in the scheme provides a vital opportunity for them to continue with their good work.
“However, there are still some unanswered questions. The budget availability is still unclear, decisions on how ‘double-funding’ in the new scheme have yet to be made and how the ‘facilitation fund’ will work in practice is still unknown.
“As we have said in our Manifesto, we want to ensure that ‘all farmers can access capital support for on-farm conservation work’ in the new scheme, so we believe that it is important that grants are supported by the relevant budget to fund successful applications. And we call on Defra to ensure that differential payment rates apply to options that are used for greening, which would allow farmers to continue to implement these options and receive payments within the new scheme.
“For the facilitation fund to work Natural England is asking for farmers to work together over 2,000 hectares to qualify and this will be a tall order. It is vital, that if this even has a hope to succeed, that the facilitator of this part of the scheme is appointed by the farmers and can be their local, trusted adviser. It is also important here that there is no unintended discrimination against smaller farmers.
“Overall, at this late stage, there are still a number of questions about how the scheme will work but we are committed to working with Defra and Natural England on its development and – more importantly – how it will be implemented on the ground.”