Defra has announced that the eighth round of the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund has opened for applications.
The £2.5 million fund encourages collaboration between groups of farmers, foresters and other land managers to improve local environmental outcomes. A share of £2.5 million of funding will be available over the next three years. Each group can apply for up to £50,000 to deliver improvements, with the fund designed so that projects can be tailored to the character of the local area, increasing the environmental benefits they provide.
Since its launch in 2015, the fund has seen around 6,000 farmers and land managers come together in 224 groups across the country to improve nature restoration in their local areas. It plays a key role in the wider aims of the Countryside Stewardship scheme to protect and enhance the natural environment, including through actions to increase biodiversity, improve water and air quality, expand woodland areas and improve natural flood management.
Farming minister Mark Spencer said: “Farmers across the country are keeping the nation fed while delivering fantastic outcomes for the environment, and we continue to support them to do this through our environmental land management schemes.
“Coordinating action and working together has been shown to achieve greater environmental benefits than individual actions alone, and this is why I’m delighted to announce a further £2.5 million under our popular Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund to bring more farmers and landowners together to protect some of our most important habitats, from meadows to woodlands.”
Both new and existing groups will be able to apply for a share of the funds by completing an online application form on the gov.uk website. Applications will be open for 12 weeks until 15 January 2024.
Projects from previous rounds of the scheme include the South Pennine Facilitation Fund, the River Ribble Group, the 1066 Farmers Groups and the Herefordshire Meadows Group.
The Herefordshire Meadows Group has used the fund to restore 237 hectares of flower-rich grassland by promoting sustainable land management systems. The group has grown into a longer term initiative with 62 members and over 500 grassland managers and is building a network of local people with skills in plant identification, management advice and contracting services for grassland management.
Herefordshire Meadows coordinator and Meadows adviser Caroline Hanks said: “Over the years, the CSFF has supported our efforts to restore over 1200 hectares of flower-rich grassland in Herefordshire, with a further 237 hectares secured by the group, now a Charitable Incorporated Organisation set up for the long term.
“This has all been made possible through collaboration, and it is this ethos which continues to enable our members to run resilient farm businesses with increasingly healthy soils, delivering important benefits to the environment.”
The Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund is funded by Defra and delivered by Rural Payments Agency (RPA), with technical advice and monitoring and evaluation provided by Natural England.
Rural Payments Agency chief executive Paul Caldwell said: “This latest announcement ensures that both new and existing groups will once again benefit from government funding to deliver long-term improvements to their local area.
“By working together and sharing their expertise, farmers can amplify the benefits already provided by the Countryside Stewardship schemes to deliver meaningful large-scale environmental change.”
The announcement follows the government’s announcement last week that farmers with a Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) agreement have started to receive their early payments, helping farmers to help improve cashflow and make sure SFI works for farm businesses.