All you need to know for Countryside Stewardship in 2022

As in previous years, last week’s launch of The Countryside Stewardship Scheme sees three components to the Scheme for the 2022 year:

  1. Higher Tier
  2. Mid-Tier
  3. Capital Grants

Here, David Morley, Head of Conservation & Environment at H&H Land & Estates, explores the detail for each.

1. Higher Tier

This Scheme is targeted at land that can deliver significant conservation gains. It is aimed mainly at farms coming out of Higher-Level Environmental Stewardship (HLS) agreements, and farms with SSSIs, moorland, woodland, or other high priority habitats.

The main change this year is that the payment rates for many higher tier options have been increased, as previously announced. Many farms coming to the end of their HLS agreement have been offered the opportunity to extend their agreement by a further 12 months, rather than entering into Higher Tier CS. In previous years, this has been financially the better option in most cases. With the increase in payment rates, however, the decision to extend an HLS agreement or apply for Higher Tier is less clear cut. If you have recently been offered an HLS extension, it may be worth exploring Higher Tier to work out if that may, in fact, now be the better option for your farm.

Other changes to the Scheme this year include:

  • The WD9 Livestock Exclusion supplement can now be used in conjunction with upland & moorland options UP1 (Enclosed Rough Grazing), UP2 (Rough Grazing for Birds) and UP3 (Management of Moorland) where complete livestock exclusion is considered necessary to facilitate habitat restoration
  • There are new options for lowland peatland on arable land and grassland to help raise water levels
  • Options WD6 & WD12 (Creation of Wood-pasture, outside and inside SDA respectively) are now available on arable land

For those interested in Higher Tier, application packs must be ordered by 31st March, an initial application needs to be submitted by 29th April 2022. Farmers need to take action quickly if they want to apply for Higher Tier. However, if you are not already in discussion with Natural England, the chances are your application will not be supported for this Scheme year.

2. Mid-Tier

Mid-Tier is aimed at delivering environmental gains at a landscape scale across the wider countryside through 5-year agreements. Applications can include a 2-year Capital Grants programme for hedge or wall restoration and, if in a target area for water quality, water capital items, such as roofing middens and silage pits. In a significant change from previous years, Mid-Tier agreement holders will be able to apply for another 2-year capital grant programme once their initial programme is complete and claimed for.

For the first time, in 2022, it will be possible to apply for Mid-Tier online. Farm Environment Record and Options Maps will still need to be completed separately and e-mailed to the RPA. Applicants can alternatively download a full application pack from the RPA website, if they prefer.

Although some have reduced, the payment rates for many Mid-Tier options have improved. So, if you have previously ruled out Mid-Tier due to low payment rates, it may be worth another look to see if it is now viable. Other changes for 2022 include that option SW8 (Intensive Grassland Management next to Watercourses) can now be applied for in the uplands (SDA land).

For a Mid-Tier agreement to start on 1st January 2023, the application window runs until 29th July 2022. If CSFO endorsement is needed for water capital items, all the necessary evidence must be provided to them by 20th May.

With so many options and capital items available within Mid-Tier, taking professional advice is essential as it is not always straightforward deciding which is the best way to go. Here at H&H Land & Estates we have submitted over 250 successful Countryside Stewardship applications in the last six years.

3. Capital Grants

The Scheme is now open and has a rolling application window, and it will remain open as long as there is budget available; applications can be made online. Unfortunately, the capital grant rates have not been increased at the same time as option payment rates were reviewed. Provided they are not being paid to do the same thing twice, farmers already in a Higher-Level Environmental Stewardship (HLS) agreement can also apply for any of the standalone capital grants which include:

  1. Hedgerow restoration and new hedge planting
  2. Dry stone wall restoration
  3. Watercourse fencing
  4. Water Capital & Air Quality Grants

There is a separate £20k limit for each of boundary restoration, water capital and air quality grants. Water Capital Grants continue to be available in much of Cumbria and several other catchments across the north of England. There has been talk of expanding the water quality target areas to include more catchments, but it is not yet completely clear that these will be fully funded in 2022. Most water capital and air quality grant items must be endorsed by the local Natural England Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer.

4. Countryside Stewardship Renewals

Agreements that started in January 2018 will finish at the end of this year. The RPA will likely offer those agreement holders a “mirror” agreement, which effectively provides a new 5-year agreement on the same basis as the original one. The difference is that this new agreement will be governed by domestic scheme rules, rather than EU regulations.

Options cannot be changed, and capital works cannot be added to a mirror agreement. In a change from previous years, however, farmers who accept the offer of a mirror agreement will be able to apply for a separate capital grant agreement on the same land. Therefore, the only reason not to accept a mirror agreement offer would be if the options need to be changed in some way or the capital items you want to apply for will exceed the £20k limit for a Capital Grant application. We strongly recommend anyone in this position seeks professional advice before making a decision.”