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Preparing for BPS removal: why you should consider Countryside Stewardship 

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Countryside Stewardship
Copyright Natural England/Paul Glendell

Countryside Stewardship is a scheme which provides financial incentives for farmers, woodland owners, foresters and land managers to look after and improve the environment.  

The scheme will continue to be open to new applicants until 2023 (for agreements starting in 2024), while we develop and roll out our new environmental land management schemes. 

I work for the Rural Payments Agency. We administer those payments.  

In this post, I’d like to share what we’ve done to make Countryside Stewardship a more attractive option for more farmers as they plan for the impact of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) reductions and their subsequent removal 

We’ve simplified things so that people have better experience when they apply - the scheme will open early next year (2022) for 2023 agreements. 

A quick overview of Countryside Stewardship  

Countryside Stewardship helps to protect and enhance our countryside.  

2023 will be the last year you can apply for agreements (to start in 2024) which will run for 5 years, which means you have a choice over the next few years on which scheme you’d like to take part in before we fully move over to the new environmental land management schemes. 

The main elements are: 

Our improvements 

People rightly expect an experience which is simple, fair and timely. We’ve worked closely with recipients to understand their experience and how it could be improved. 

Here are the changes we’ve made as a result: 

  • We’ve made it easier to submit applications electronically
  • We’ve reduced the amount of evidence that people need to submit to support their applications
  • We looked at all of the checks that were carried out and found that some weren’t needed, so we’ve removed them
  • We’ve moved to a single, full payment for claims. This cuts out the amount of processing involved in releasing advance and final payments
  • For those agreements starting after this year, we’ve removed additional penalties for the over-declaration of land and extended the application period for force majeure applications to 8 weeks (in line with the BPS guidance)
  • We've changed our approach to inspections. An on-site review will determine whether or not the environmental outcomes have been achieved. Rather than having to wait for a final inspection report, our inspectors now discuss early findings with the farmer at the time of the visit and complete a summary report whilst still on site. This ongoing communication takes away the risk of any surprise findings afterwards
  • Our approach to penalties has changed too. We wanted a fairer and proportionate response to penalties, so we’ve developed a system of warnings to give agreement holders a chance to put things right, where that is possible, and still get paid

We also understand that the payment rate for options needed to be refreshed as they were set for 2013. We’ll be announcing the outcome of the review of the payment rates shortly. 

The impact of these changes 

Encouragingly, so far the impact of these changes has been positive: application numbers have increased and we’ve been able to issue more payments, earlier in the payment window. 

We’ve seen Countryside Stewardship applications more than double since 2018. At the moment, we have over 22,000 agreements in place, with around another 9,300 to be offered and accepted to start in January 2022. 

To see whether Countryside Stewardship might be for you, visit our GOV.UK pages.

If you have any questions about the changes, leave a comment below and my team and I will do our best to answer them.  

We’ll blog again when the scheme opens for applications. Do subscribe to the Future Farming Blog and the Rural Payments agency blog to hear the very latest. 

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  1. Comment by David Renfree posted on

    We have applied for Mid Tier and had a large chunk rejected as the HEFER report identified on maps as the site of an old mill pond and leat ( footprint removed and leveled in 1982 so no archaeology remains) . Under rules any historic land can not be put into GS4 (herbal ley)
    The land is currently being intensively farmed and double cropped so Maize in the spring and then ploughed and short term grass before ploughing and Maize again. If we can not put down the 5yr Herbal ley this will continue. So in the next 5 yrs the fields will be sub soiled to half a metre 5 times, ploughed 10 times and cultivated 30 times.
    If we could sow a 5yr herbal ley it would be direct drilled so not even disturbing the soil, how does not allowing GS4 make any sense? Could I receive a reply please

  2. Comment by Daniel Frederick Stover posted on

    This is all very well for those who were not in CSS and who are now urged to enter the programme, a good development. It does not; however, deal with those who are already in CSS agreements and appear to be frozen out from putting additional lands forward for CSS in the same holding - and also cannot apply new options under SFI to land already in a CSS. Neither of those constraints makes sense when measured against the intent of ELMS or CSS.

  3. Comment by Roy Gamlin posted on

    These changes should be applied straightaway right across the board, please. ie to my existing CS where I am being penalised for looking after bird nesting sites.

  4. Comment by Edward Richardson posted on

    Payment levels remain at 2015 levels eg fencing grant was full cost is now 67% of cost of construction.

  5. Comment by Rodney Gay posted on

    Would there be a double payment if one was to apply for CSS and the SFI soil standard on the same land?

    Will there be a list of CSS options that are considered possible double payment with the SFI soil standard?

    When will the CSS application and the SFI application window be open so informed choices can be made?

    The reduced 2022 BPS payment will not be plugged by a CSS agreement not starting to 2023 and a late start of any SFI agreements will not fill the income gap either!

    • Replies to Rodney Gay>

      Comment by The RPA Team posted on

      Hi Rodney,

      Customers will not be able to apply for Countryside Stewardship (CS) and the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) on the same area of land where there is a risk of double funding or a conflict of the management actions required. We will publish a list of CS options that are incompatible with the new SFI standards. The dates of the application windows has not yet been confirmed. The CS application window normally opens in early February. The SFI application window will be timed to minimise disruption with BPS claims and to allow people to make choices alongside other schemes such as CS. We’ll confirm precise dates of the application window in the new year, with details of how to apply. We published more information on GOV.UK last week, here is the link:

      Best wishes,
      The RPA Team

  6. Comment by Denise Seely posted on

    Admin and selecting from lists would be SO MUCH easier if the sites permitted downloading into an EXCEL spreadsheet. dowloading into a pdf is a waste of paper!!! THank you

    • Replies to Denise Seely>

      Comment by The RPA Team posted on

      Hi Denise,

      Thanks for your comment - we’re continually gathering customer feedback on improvements we can make to Countryside Stewardship to make it easier to apply and committed to reduce the amount of paper we use in the administration of our schemes.

      Best wishes,
      The RPA Team

  7. Comment by Denise Seely posted on

    Will the improvements and new rates start for CS HT schemes starting in Jan 2022? Hope so

  8. Comment by Jane James posted on

    One thing that would improve the experience of Countryside Stewardship would be to have a dedicated application point and to acknowledge the receipt of an application. This would be an improvement on the applicant receiving only a bounce back from the universal RPA email portal and having no idea whether their application has been accepted or if there are any problems.

    A further improvement would be timely processing. I submitted an application on 26 July this year and have heard nothing in response. It is nearly December and the agreement is supposed to start in January. How is my client supposed to plan his land management? He has to decide soon whether to incur the cost of putting options in place but does not know whether he will be offered an agreement or not.

    • Replies to Jane James>

      Comment by The RPA Team posted on

      Hi Jane,

      We’re continuing to improve Countryside Stewardship based on customer feedback as we want to make it easier to apply. One such improvement which we’re developing for 2022 is the ability to apply for Mid Tier online using the Rural Payments Service.

      On submitting your application successfully you will receive a receipt and be able to check on the progress of your application at any time. If you do choose to email your application to us you should keep the email acknowledgement as it provides confirmation of receipt.

      We always endeavour to issue agreements as soon as we can however there are times when we have to clarify information contained in an application before issuing the agreement. We appreciate the concern this delay can cause. We are planning to write to customers in December 2021 who have not received an agreement from us to start on 1 January 2022.

      If you have any other questions, do let us know or get in contact with us directly.

      Best wishes,
      The RPA Team

  9. Comment by Alex Bywaters posted on

    A shame that within the upland offer, one isn't allowed to feed livestock supplementary feed only mineral blocks. Is this correct or have I been mis advised? My sheep need hay in winter. SDA, 850ft altitude.

  10. Comment by Michael Haughton posted on

    Our farm is on the South Downs and has Open Access, so walkers and their dogs (mainly off the lead) can walk where they want, this forces the sheep to graze in secluded areas. So the height of the grass varies and we have been advised this is not acceptable.
    But this is a situation beyond our control!


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