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New Farm Stewardship Regime Looks Challenging

05 June 2015

UK – Much is still undecided about farm stewardship reforms but the new regime looks likely to reduce payments and be more demanding on farms.

This is according to H&H Land and Property environmental adviser, David Morley, addressing NSA North Sheep on Wednesday, who said things could be “pretty difficult” under the new regime.

He explained that the two tier system would remain, although there would be more competition for grant money, calling on farms to compete against each other.

This means applications should be “as strong as can be”.

Land under Natural England agreements to drop to 40 per cent from 70 per cent under new regime - Natural England board member, Will Cockbain.

The higher tier system will focus on Special Site of Scientific Interest land and biodiversity areas, helping the government meet water framework objectives and similar targets. The mid-tier will deliver “landscape scale” environmental schemes to be more farmer led.

Commenting on the mid-tier element, he said: "Farmers should be quite careful about the options they pick.  Every application is judged on local area objectives."

"Here, farmers may be encouraged into collaborative working, which wont necessarily mean farmers club together but could see neighbours work for overall landscape level benefits."

He added that several popular options have been removed from the new phase of agri-environment schemes, although explained it was very much “wait and see” with plans still evolving.

He noted that the new stewardship options offered less for upland and grazing farms and more for arable operations.

Walling payments and cattle grazing options have been heavily revised.

“At 25 pounds a metre for walling payments farmers will receive quite a bit less than the old system and this is less than a waller will charge,” said Mr Morley. “Those in ELS, especially if they don’t have things like hay meadows and heather, will find it difficult under the new scheme.

“It’s not a points system in the same way as last time, you get paid for the options you undertake.

“Quite a few options businesses were choosing are just not there anymore.”

The amount of farmland under Natural England stewardship agreements is expected to drop from a current level of 70 per cent to around 35-40 per cent.

This is according to Cumbrian farmer and Natural England (NE) board member Will Cockbain, who said the organisation has new personnel and seen “a big culture change”.

It is still early days but new stewardship arrangements could be "quite tricky"

Quoting NE chief executive, James Cross, he said “its not good us putting farmers out of business” and stressed the organisation’s duty to get half of SSSIs in “favourable condition” by 2020.

Farms expecting money for longer term agreements will continue to see Rural Development Programme money come in, which has already allocated £2.1 billion to realise current agreements from a funding pot of £3.5 billion, Mr Cockbain explained.

Changes to the walling payment could spell bad news for rural communities, Swaledale Sheep Breeders Association chairman Alan Alderson told the NSA seminar.

“One of the biggest advantages of Natural England has been the walling grants, they provide work for locals and maintain the farms,” said Mr Alderson, who stressed that he did not want to criticise the work of Natural England.

“Farmer relationships with the environment are critical. Sheep and cattle have made the landscape into what we see today."

He raised concern about the ancient hefts being disrupted by winter grazing restrictions as heather is more vulnerable at this time. 

"Our system is under pressure from not allowing sheep to graze over winter. Hefts will take a lot of rebuilding."

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms.

Top image via Shutterstock

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