DEFRA has today published the manual needed to apply for the new Countryside Stewardship scheme.
The Scheme will open for applications in July and will close on 30 September. The CLA, which represents over 33,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses, has expressed concerns that big questions remain to be answered so close to when the window for applications is set to open.
The manual can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/countryside-stewardship-manual
The manual provides the information needed to apply for the new Countryside Stewardship scheme, including land and applicant eligibility requirements, how the different elements of the Scheme operate and how agreements are managed. The manual fails, however, to answer longstanding questions about terms and conditions, penalties and scope for appeals, and whether applications can be made for Countryside Stewardship where another person (such as a farming tenant) is applying for a Basic Payment Scheme on the same piece of land. This is a practice that was permitted under previous schemes and is called ‘dual use’.
CLA President Henry Robinson said: “We continue to work closely with DEFRA, Natural England and the Forestry Commission and welcome the publication of this manual that includes important further details about how the Countryside Stewardship scheme will work.
“It is deeply frustrating that there still remains big unanswered questions on important issues about what landowners will be undertaking if they take part in Countryside Stewardship schemes. We are concerned that this will stop some businesses from making applications and as a result we will see good potential environmental schemes not happening at all.
“It is also unacceptable that we still don’t know whether landowners can make dual use claims. This leaves affected businesses with no ability to plan. We urge Ministers to resolve the issue quickly and to confirm that landowners that are investing in valuable environmental schemes will continue to benefit from Countryside Stewardship.”
“The application window provided for Countryside Stewardship applications is extremely narrow and it is vitally important that members start as early as possible preparing their applications. We do not want to see important environmental management schemes falling by the wayside.”