Simplified countryside stewardship - Thorne Widgery

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced its new simplified Countryside Stewardship scheme (CS) offers to complement the existing Higher Tier and Mid Tier offers. It also published more details on its sister scheme that offers grants for restoration of hedgerows and boundaries.

The CS, which opened for applications for multi-annual agreements on 1 January this year, comprises four new offers to provide tailored options covering the full range of different farm types. This means that farmers and land managers can deliver environmental benefits, no matter what they farm or where they are located.

The four offers are the Online Arable Offer, the Lowland Grazing Offer, the Upland Offer and the Mixed Farming Offer. In addition, Defra said that the Hedgerows and Boundaries grant will receive more funding, with applicants having the ability to apply for a maximum grant of £10,000, up from £5,000 in previous application rounds.

Benefits of the new simplified scheme are that the paperwork is quicker and easier to get through, and the fact that the scheme is non-competitive means that all farmers who meet the eligibility requirements can get an agreement to deliver as few as three or as many as 14 options.

The changes were made after farmers complained that the scheme was “too complicated”. The new simpler offers should help more farmers get back into agri-environment schemes, and, unlike existing offers, all landowners who make a valid application for any of the four new offers will be guaranteed funding through the scheme.

Meanwhile, the existing Higher Tier and Mid Tier offers will continue to support previous agreements.

Farmers and land managers have until 31 May to request a paper application pack. However, those who prefer to apply online will be able to do so from 20 February.