‘Don’t over-complicate it’ farmers urged as subsidy window draws to close

Countryside Stewardship scheme deadline is fast approaching, warns Savills' Will Hargreaves Picture

Countryside Stewardship scheme deadline is fast approaching, warns Savills' Will Hargreaves Picture: SAVILLS - Credit: Archant

Land managers are being urged to “keep it simple” as they vie for government funding towards preserving and enhancing biodiversity on farms.

William Hargreaves, head of the rural team at Savills Ipswich Picture: RICHARD MARSHAM

William Hargreaves, head of the rural team at Savills Ipswich Picture: RICHARD MARSHAM - Credit: Archant

The cut-off date for an online pack to apply for Countryside Stewardship scheme cash is June 30, and bids and supporting evidence must be in by July 31.

William Hargreaves, who leads the rural team at Savills in Ipswich, said as a competitive scheme, applications are scored and ranked – but land managers can give their bids the best chance of success by assessing their options.

MORE – Living in the moment – photographer captures remarkable scenes from Suffolk farmsThe three-tier scheme rewards different commitments from applicants. The Higher Tier deadline has now passed, but there is still time to apply for a Mid Tier agreement, where the main priority is protecting and enhancing the natural environment, in particular biodiversity and water quality, he said.

“Use the search tool via the government website to work out which options best complement your existing farming and management systems,” he said.

“In addition, review priority habitat layers for the farm and consider what options are best suited to these.

“Keep it simple. Choosing a few options can provide an income stream, benefit the environment and be straightforward to manage. Over-complicated options can result in challenges delivering them and often incur significant costs. Consider what capital works can be included within the agreement, such as fencing.”

It was important to keep in mind the cost of delivery of each of the options, and work out whether, for example, the gross margin is better than for planting break crops.

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“Could it therefore replace non-profitable break crops or help deal with grass weeds such as black grass?” he said.

“There is not a requirement to enter the whole holding into an agreement and therefore different blocks of land can be entered into different agreements, however only one agreement can be applied for per year.

“It’s also important to understand the management prescriptions of the options before entering into them – what you can/can’t do and when you can do it. There will be requirements to keep records, so put a system in place and update it regularly.”

There is also the delay in the annual payments – which begin from December 1 – to bear in mind. Agreements run for five years for management options, with two-year agreements for specific capital improvement works, he said.