Applications Open for 2024 Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier Grants

  • Applications open for Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier agreements starting from 1 January 2024
  • Payment rates up by an average of 10% for ongoing activity and 48% for one-off grants, with three years to complete and submit claims
  • Annual declaration replaces current claim process to reduce the administrative burden for farmers and landowners

From today (Tuesday 7 February) farmers and land managers can submit new applications for Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier, rewarding them for their actions to protect and improve their natural environment.

Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier offers multi-year agreements and one-off grants for over 250 different actions farmers can take to enhance the environment alongside their farming business, from planting and maintaining new hedgerows or woodland through to restoring peatland and moorlands.

The start of the application window comes after 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%.

The actions taken will help make food production more resilient and efficient over the longer term whilst contributing towards the UK’s environmental goals on carbon, biodiversity, water quality and net zero.

Rural Payments Agency Chief Executive 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.

There are now more than 32,000 ongoing Countryside Stewardship agreements in place – with the scheme seeing a 94% increase in uptake since 2020. This includes almost 4,000 Higher Tier agreements delivering environmental benefits – such as woodland management or habitat creation – on our most important sites.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer 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.

To support farmers and land managers with applications and to help encourage them to take action on their land, a number of changes to the application process. These include:

  • For the first time, a new Higher Tier capital only offer has been introduced awarding grants to help support the most environmentally significant sites and woodlands, including preparatory works for the creation and restoration of priority habitats and priority species. Successful applicants will now have three years to complete their activity and submit claims;
  • An annual claim declaration, which means that agreement holders will not have to complete a burdensome annual claim form. Instead they will be able to declare online that they are fulfilling the obligations of their agreement, reducing the administrative burden on farmers and landowners and making the claim for payment process quicker and more straightforward.
  • Where farmers or land managers are already in Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements, they can also apply for a Countryside Stewardship Higher Tier agreement to start from 1 January 2024, as long as they are undertaking actions that are different to and do not conflict with their Higher Level Stewardship agreement.

Applications open today for Higher Tier and will remain open until 28th April 2023. Mid Tier and Wildlife Offer agreements are expected to open next month.

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