NFU secures improvements to Countryside Stewardship but says more work needs to be done

The NFU says the new manual, target maps and options for livestock farmers are steps forward for the Countryside Stewardship scheme, as the applications open for 2016. But more work must be done to make it an appealing scheme to farmers, the NFU adds.

The NFU has urged Natural England (NE) and Defra to act on some key concerns from the membership and has been successful on the following points:

· After pushing for clearer and more concise guidance, the new manual, the NFU says, does have a better structure.

· The NFU highlighted feedback on the difficulties farmers encountered on the online maps which told farmers what the regional environment targets were. New software makes these maps more accessible.

· The NFU represented the livestock farmers who argued there were too few grassland options in the scheme. NE and Defra have increased these options and have also made improvements to the laborious and costly soil sampling process.

NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “This is quite simple, without the necessary uptake by farmers this new scheme will not work. Farmers will act as the jury as to whether this scheme is fit for purpose and, as yet, the jury is still out.

“The uptake of Countryside Stewardship in its first year was extremely low. We have urged Natural England to make some changes to make it more attractive and it’s good to see some of our suggestions, but not all, have been taken up. Whether this will be enough to attract enough farmers remains to be seen.

“We continue to urge Defra and Natural England to make the drastic improvements that farmers need to see to make the scheme work. The progress made has reaffirmed the importance of the NFU’s role in representing the views of the farming community. And this places us in a good position to continue working with Natural England and Defra on improving the scheme for farmers.”

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