Countryside Stewardship confusion putting the environment and the rural economy at risk

13 July 2016

Uncertainty around the future of Countryside Stewardship is putting at risk the environmental management of more than a million hectares of land by farmers and land managers, the CLA has warned today.

The day after the Referendum, CLA President Ross Murray wrote to Defra Secretary Liz Truss asking her to confirm that all contracts to deliver Countryside Stewardship programmes will continue until the end of the contractual term.

Yesterday the CLA reiterated this message in its New Opportunities briefing, calling for an immediate commitment from Government that all existing EU-funded agri-environment agreements will be honoured through to the end of their contracted terms, and that EU-funded agri-environment schemes which are currently open for applicants must remain so.

CLA Director of Policy and Advice Christopher Price said: “Targeted agri-environment schemes deliver biodiversity, flood risk and water quality benefits across 15% of England’s farm area (1.3 million hectares). The latest scheme, Countryside Stewardship, planned to inject over £900 million into the rural economy. Now, one year into a five year scheme, there is no clarity from The Treasury as to whether existing agreements will be honoured or new agreements offered.

“We are concerned – and Government should be concerned too – about the impacts on the environment and rural businesses who have committed to carrying out environmental measures over the coming years and have budgeted around the funding that enables them to carry out this important work. Thousands of rural businesses currently face uncertainty as to whether they will be able to apply for Countryside Stewardship in 2017.

“The scheme struggled to attract applicants last year due to its confused introduction and overly bureaucratic processes. This current uncertainty must be cleared up quickly and decisively if farm businesses are going to invest the time and money needed to develop their applications over the coming weeks. We are calling on Government to make an immediate commitment that all existing agri-environment agreements will be honoured through to the end of their contracted terms, and that agri-environment schemes which are currently open for applicants will remain open.”