One of the North of England’s leading Rural Property Agencies, H&H Land and Property has welcomed the recent launch of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme for 2017 by Natural England.
“As with previous years, there are two tiers – Higher Tier and Mid Tier,” explains David Morley, Head of Conservation and Environment at H&H Land and Property who operate across Cumbria, Durham, north Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, together with an office base at Wooler mart on sale days.
Higher Tier is targeted at land that can deliver significant conservation gains. It is aimed mainly at farms coming out of Higher Level Environmental Stewardship (HLS) agreements and farms with SSSIs, moorland, woodland or other high priority habitats. Farms that can take steps to improve water quality are a particular priority for Higher Tier at the moment.
Mid Tier concentrates on delivering environmental gains at a landscape scale across the wider countryside. Options are generally simpler than Higher Tier but usually more demanding than the old Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) scheme.
For those interested in Higher Tier, an “Initial Application” needs to be submitted by 5th May 2017, making it a very short application window. Application packs must be ordered by 13th April, so farmers need to take action quickly if they want to apply for Higher Tier. Unlike last year, the key dates are the same for woodland-only applications as for agri-environment applications.
David goes on to say: “If the initial application is successful, Natural England or the Forestry Commission then take the application forward and work towards making a formal agreement offer in the autumn. If you are happy with what is proposed, the Higher Tier agreement would start on 1st Jan 2018.
“Natural England is offering to support applicants through this process, but experience suggests they have limited resources to do so fully. It is also important for applicants to be sure that what is proposed will fit with their farming system. We think having independent advice is critical in securing an agreement that will work for you.”
With Mid Tier, the application window runs until 30th September 2017 but application packs must be ordered by 31st July. Mid Tier is a competitive scheme, although low take up so far has meant most applicants have been offered an agreement.
For farmers that do not want a multi-year agreement, the Hedgerows & Boundaries Grant, also part of Countryside Stewardship, remains open until 28th April. This offers the chance to apply for a one-off grant of up to £5000 towards the restoration of hedgerows, dry stone walls, stone-faced banks or earth banks.