Countryside Stewardship must be deliverable, says NFU

The NFU says Defra and Natural England must work diligently to improve the Countryside Stewardship scheme as it was announced at NFU Council this week just 3,000 agreement offers have been made.

NFU Vice President Guy Smith said that the figures only accentuate the gap between the expiry of 11,000 ELS agreements last year.

Natural England Chief Operating Officer Guy Thompson admitted to Council that Countryside Stewardship got off to a wobbly start and in some cases, he said, it was ‘just downright poor.’

Guy Smith continued: “It’s no surprise that the uptake of Countryside Stewardship has dropped off so significantly with the poor launch that it’s had. What they need to focus on now is improving the scheme. And we, as the NFU, are committed to keeping the pressure on them to make sure this happens.

“Our aim for the scheme needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds at Defra and Natural England: helping farmers deliver for the environment. Our priorities are:

· Guidance needs to be written for farmers.

· There is too much guidance (over 800 pages) and too much bureaucracy. It’s far too easy to get the record keeping wrong resulting in draconian penalties. We want a pragmatic approach to record keeping.

· Countryside Stewardship needs to work alongside farming systems.

· Members need to have confidence they can enter the scheme without risk of big penalties. They need to be able to trust Government to work with farmers to deliver Countryside Stewardship.”

Guy Smith added: “I’d like to thank the Council delegates for engaging in the debate today and voicing the concerns of the farming industry directly to Defra and Natural England.”

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