Farmers and land managers are now able to submit new applications for the Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier, rewarding those who act to protect and improve the natural environment.
The higher tier offers agreements over multiple years, as well as one-off grants for over 250 different actions farmers can take to enhance the environment, such as planting and maintaining new hedgerows or woodland or restoring peatland and moorlands.
Defra Farming Minister, Mark Spencer, announced an average increase of 10% for Countryside Stewardship revenue payment rates, covering ongoing activity such as habitat management. Capital payment rates, which cover one-off projects such as hedgerow creation, were also increased by an average of 48%. He said: “Countryside Stewardship is a fantastic opportunity for farmers and landowners to be financially supported as they protect the planet while producing food more sustainably. Farmers will feel the added benefit where they can take that mix and match approach between the various Countryside Stewardship tiers, but also the Sustainable Farming Incentive.
“The scheme provides funding for some of our most important habitats, including flower-rich hay meadows and improved management of our woodlands, so I encourage everyone to consider whether areas of your farm would benefit from what’s on offer and apply.”
Actions taken by farmers will increase the resilience and efficiency of food production longer term, whilst supporting the government’s carbon, biodiversity, water quality and net zero goals.
More than 32,000 Countryside Stewardship agreements are in place, including almost 4,000 Higher Tier agreements. Chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency, Paul Caldwell, said: “We are pleased to be able to open up Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier applications for 2024 on the back of increased interest in the scheme.
“We are making it more straightforward to apply and are giving new agreement holders longer to carry out capital works within their agreement and welcome applications from farmers who want to manage or improve our important environmental features.”
A number of changes have been made to the application process in order to support and encourage farmers to complete the process. These include a new Higher Tier capital only offer; an annual claim declaration meaning that agreement holders will not have to complete a long annual claim form, and those already in HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) agreements can also apply for a Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier.
Applications are now open for Higher Tier and will remain so until April 28, 2023. Mid Tier and Wildlife Offer agreements are expected to open next month.