Application Window Opens for 2024 Countryside Stewardship Agreements

From today (Tuesday 21 March) farmers and land managers can submit applications for the 2024 Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier agreements which will reward them for their actions to protect and enhance the natural environment, in particular the diversity of wildlife, water quality, air quality and natural flood management, while continuing to produce food.

Countryside Stewardship gives farmers and land managers the opportunity to be paid for environmental work alongside sustainable food production, from restoring wildlife habitats and managing woodlands, to mitigating flood risks. 32,000 Countryside Stewardship agreements are now in place across England – a 94% increase in uptake since 2020 – including nearly 26,000 Mid Tier agreements.

Following farmer feedback, the scheme has continued to evolve and improve with:

  • the removal of the limit on the value of capital items in the water or air quality, hedgerow and boundary, or natural flood management priorities
  • a broadened offer to support natural flood management, create more areas of scrub, and reduce nitrogen inputs in groundwater;
  • improvements to the application process to make it easier for farmers and land managers, with a new online application service, the removal of the need for farmers to request an application pack before starting their application, automatic checks to enable applications to be processed quicker, and an annual declaration.
  • an average increase of 10% for revenue payment rates and 48% for capital payment rates, as announced in January in January.

The scheme plays an important role in the Government’s efforts to make food production more resilient and efficient whilst contributing towards the UK’s environmental goals on carbon, biodiversity, water quality and net zero.

Among the habitats which farmers are already being paid to protect and enhance under Countryside Stewardship are grasslands, which will be the focus of Sir David Attenborough’s Wild Isles documentary this Sunday.

More than 50,000 hectares of different types of grassland are already managed under Countryside Stewardship agreements, with a 100,000-plus hectares under Environmental Stewardship agreements.

This shows Countryside Stewardship is a key vehicle for delivering significant and important outcomes for the climate and environment, alongside food production, working together with farmers and rural communities.

Farming Minister, Mark Spencer said:

Countryside Stewardship is already popular amongst farmers, with almost 32,000 people signed up across England and something on offer for every type of farm.

With the latest application window opening today, I urge farmers to take a look at the full range of options and capital items available and consider the improved application process and the removal of the limit on capital grants to see if they could benefit in 2024.

Rural Payments Agency Chief Executive Paul Caldwell said:

We are continuing to improve Countryside Stewardship, building on the successes we have achieved already, which has seen more farmers and land managers applying and we want to do more.

With a broadened offer and improvements to the application process, this is a great opportunity for those new to agri-environment schemes and those who may have decided not to apply in the past, and I would urge farmers and land managers to get involved where possible.

How Countryside Stewardship is improving and evolving

As announced last year, the government is evolving Countryside Stewardship rather than building Local Nature Recovery as a new scheme, but incorporating all of the original ambition.

Using feedback from farmers and other stakeholders the RPA have already introduced measures to improve how the scheme works for farmers and delivers positive outcomes:

  • increased payment rates on both revenue and capital items mean that farmers and land managers are being paid more;
  • changes to the application and claim process which is cutting down on burdensome paperwork;
  • adjustments to the administration of the scheme with applications and payments being processed faster than ever
  • improving our approach to enforcement making it fairer and more proportionate.

And further improvements are coming, with around 30 additional actions available to farmers by the end of 2024; greater flexibility over when they can apply and how they manage their agreements, with improved access for tenant farmers and increased access to Higher Tier options and agreements; and the introduction of Countryside Stewardship Plus to encourage the right things being done in the right places, enable local join-up to deliver bigger and better results and facilitate testing of innovative payment mechanisms, such as payment by results.

What is happening for 2024 Mid Tier agreements

A number of new options in Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier are available to those applying from today. Farmers and land managers can support natural flood management; create more areas of scrub; and reduce nitrogen inputs in groundwater alongside a broad range of other options and capital items that are available. Existing Wildlife Offers for arable, mixed, lowland grazing and uplands farmers, provide a package of actions that help support the wildlife on farms by providing sources of nectar and pollen for pollinators and winter food and improved habitats for birds.

Applications open today for multi-year grants where payments are made annually for five years, as well as a range of grants for specific capital works including capital to help prevent water and air pollution, support natural flood management, and create or restore hedgerows. The limit on the value of capital items that can be included in a Mid Tier agreements has been removed. Dedicated advice to support management of water and air pollution and support natural flood management is also available from Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) officers in all catchments

Farmers should also consider the range of standalone capital offers available.

Applications for 2024 can be made via the Rural Payments Service, and a number of measures have been made to enhance the administration of scheme.

For this year, a new online application service will be available so it’s clearer and easier to make an application. Farmers simply need to accept and download an agreement, there is no need to request an application pack so farmers can start building their application straight away. The application service includes some new functionality that will allow us to carry out checks automatically. This will enable the RPA to process applications much faster.

From this year the RPA has already introduced an annual declaration as part of the CS claim which will also make the process much more quicker, reducing the administrative burden for farmers and land managers.

The changes to Countryside Stewardship are a further step in improving and enhancing our environmental land management offer announced by the Government in January.

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