Latest application window opens for 2024 Countryside Stewardship agreements

Beginning today (Tuesday, March 21), farmers and land managers can submit applications for the 2024 Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier Arrangements, which they will use for their actions to protect and enhance the natural environment, particularly wildlife diversity, water quality and air quality , reward natural flood management while continuing to produce food.

Countryside stewardship offers farmers and land managers the opportunity to get paid for environmental work alongside sustainable food production, from restoring wildlife habitats and managing forests to mitigating flood risks. There are now 32,000 countryside stewardship agreements across England – a 94% increase in take-up since 2020 – including nearly 26,000 mid-tier agreements.

Based on feedback from farmers, the program has been further developed and improved with:

  • the removal of limitations on the value of capital items in the areas of water or air quality, hedges and borders, or natural flood management priorities
  • an expanded offering to support natural flood management, create more shrub cover and reduce nitrogen inputs into groundwater;
  • Improvements to the application process to make it easier for farmers and land managers with a new online application service, removal of the need for farmers to request an application package before starting their application, automatic checks to process applications faster and an annual declaration.
  • an average increase of 10% for revenue payment rates and 48% for capital payment rates as announced in January.

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

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

More than 50,000 hectares of various types of grassland are already managed under Countryside Stewardship agreements, and more than 100,000 hectares under Environmental Stewardship agreements.

This demonstrates that Countryside Stewardship, alongside food production in partnership with farmers and rural communities, is a key tool to achieve meaningful and important climate and environmental outcomes.

Agriculture Secretary Mark Spencer said:

Countryside stewardship is already popular with farmers, with nearly 32,000 participants across England and offering for every type of farming.

As the latest application window opens today, I urge farmers to look at the full range of options and capital items available and to consider the improved application process and the removal of caps on capital grants to see if they can benefit in 2024 could.

Paul Caldwell, Chief Executive of the Rural Payments Agency said:

We continue to improve Countryside Stewardship and build on the successes we’ve already had, which has resulted in more farmers and land managers applying and we want to do more.

With an expanded offering and improvements to the application process, this is a great opportunity for those who are new to agri-environment schemes and for those who may have chosen not to apply in the past, and I urge farmers and land managers to get involved to participate if possible.

How Countryside Stewardship is Improving and Evolving

As announced last year, instead of building Local Nature Recovery as a new program, the Government is developing Countryside Stewardship further, integrating all of the original ambitions.

Based on feedback from farmers and other stakeholders, the RPA has already introduced measures to improve the way the program works for farmers and to achieve positive results:

  • higher payment rates for both revenue and capital items mean that farmers and land managers are paid more;
  • changes to the application and claims process, eliminating tedious paperwork;
  • Adjustments to program administration, with applications and payments being processed faster than ever
  • Improving our approach to enforcement to make it fairer and more proportionate.

And further improvements are to come, with around 30 additional measures available to farmers by the end of 2024; greater flexibility in when to apply and how to manage their agreements, with improved access for tenants and expanded access to higher tier options and agreements; and the launch of Countryside Stewardship Plus to encourage doing the right things in the right places, enabling local coalitions to achieve bigger and better results, and testing innovative payment mechanisms such as B. Payment based on results.

What will happen to 2024 mid-tier contracts?

A number of new options in Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier are available to those who apply starting today. Farmers and land managers can support natural flood management; Create more areas with scrub; and reducing nitrogen inputs to groundwater, alongside a wide range of other available options and capital items. Existing wildlife offerings for arable, mixed, lowland and upland farmers offer a package of measures to help support wildlife on farms by providing sources of nectar and pollen for pollinators and winter foraging, as well as improved habitats for birds.

Applications for multi-annual grants, where payments are made annually for five years, as well as a range of grants for specific capital actions, including capital to prevent water and air pollution, support natural flood management, and create or restore hedgerows, are open possible today. The limit on the value of capital items that can be included in mid-tier arrangements has been removed. Specific advice to support water and air pollution management and to support natural flood management is also available from Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) officers in all catchment areas

Farmers should also consider the range of standalone capital offerings.

Applications for 2024 can be made through the Rural Payments Service and a number of measures have been taken to improve the administration of the scheme.

A new online application service will be available for this year to make it clearer and easier to submit an application. Farmers only need to accept and download an agreement, there is no need to request an application package, so farmers can start building their application immediately. The application service includes some new features that allow us to run checks automatically. This allows the RPA to process applications much faster.

As of this year, the RPA has already introduced an annual declaration as part of the CS application, which will also make the process much faster and reduce the administrative burden for farmers and land managers.

The changes to Countryside Stewardship are another step in improving and expanding our organic farming offering announced by the Government in January.


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