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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Environmental land management schemes: details of actions and payments

Hele, Mid Devon District photograph by Alison Day
Alison Day

Today we published further information on the growth and rollout of our environmental land management schemes.   

It includes the full range of actions, payment rates and when they’ll be available.  

There’s something for everyone in our schemes and grants. We’ve made them much more straightforward, flexible and workable, so if you haven’t yet looked, now is the time to.

The document is available to read on GOV.UK. In this post, I’ll share a scheme-by-scheme summary.

Something for everyone

From the start of the agricultural transition, our approach has been to work with farmers to develop reforms to agricultural policy and to introduce those changes gradually.

Last year, we started to roll out some of the core elements of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), explaining that we’d learn as we go, expanding and refining the offer until the full scheme is available in 2024.

Working in this way means that we can make sure that we’re giving you the support you need to produce high-quality food and take care of the environment. 

It also means that there is more time to adapt and prepare for the future.

We’re making sure that there is an offer all farm types, regardless of size, location, ownership or the systems used. 

The actions we will pay for cover:

  • grassland
  • arable land
  • permanent crops
  • moorland and upland peat
  • lowland peat
  • woodland, trees and agroforestry
  • boundaries
  • waterbodies
  • wetland habitats
  • coastal habitats
  • lowland heathland
  • heritage
  • species recovery and management
  • access and engagement
  • animal health and welfare

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) offer in 2023

The Sustainable Farming Incentive pays you to carry out farming activities in a more environmentally sustainable way so that you can produce food alongside environmental goods and services. 

In June 2022, we launched the SFI with 3 standards:

  • arable and horticulture soils standard
  • improved grassland soils standard
  • moorland standard

The 6 new standards we’ll introduce in 2023 are:

  • nutrient management standard
  • integrated pest management standard
  • hedgerows standard
  • arable and horticultural land standard
  • improved grassland standard
  • low/no input grassland standard

This year, we’re introducing 3 more standards than planned. This is so that our offer is wide-ranging and helps us to achieve our ambitions for food production, the environment and climate. 

If you already have an SFI agreement, you will be able to add these actions and more land.

Many of the actions we will pay for will help you reduce your costs, improve your efficiency and improve the natural environment.

For example, the nutrient and integrated pest management standards can help you optimise your use of inputs, helping you to reduce costs whilst also potentially maintaining or even improving yields.

SFI agreements last for 3 years. If you’re a tenant farmer, you do not need landlord consent to take part. If you carry out the actions, payments will go to you.

You can leave the scheme early, with no penalty, if you unexpectedly lose management control of the land you’ve entered into the scheme.

In the coming weeks, we’ll publish a podcast and a blog post discussing the standards in more detail, including the rationale behind them. We’ll also cover the new SFI Management Payment which we talked about in a recent post.

In short, the SFI Management payment recognises the cost of planning for and participating in the SFI.

We’ll keep this payment under review over the next 2 years, along with all other elements of scheme design and delivery, to make sure the scheme works for farmers, delivers value for money and helps to achieve our ambitions.

Annual Health and Welfare Review

As part of the wider SFI offer, we started to roll out the funded vet-led annual health and welfare review with a small numbers of farmers. This is something we’ve blogged about and we will soon make this offer more widely available.

We plan to add animal welfare grants to our package of support in the spring. 

Countryside Stewardship

Countryside Stewardship pays you for the environmental work you carry out alongside sustainable food production — from restoring wildlife habitats, to creating or managing woodlands, to mitigating flood risks.

From January 2023, we updated payment rates for revenue and capital options in Countryside Stewardship (CS). Colleagues over at the RPA blogged about this recently.

We encourage you to think about applying for CS Mid Tier, the Wildlife Offers and Higher Tier applications in 2023, for agreements starting for 1 January 2024.

A range of capital grants are also available. The official Capital payments rate guidance can be found on GOV.UK.

We’ve made a number of changes to improve the application process and broaden the scope of CS. These include:

  • expanding the capital offer to include specific items to help farmers and land managers prepare for habitat creation and restoration
  • further expanding the Catchment Sensitive Farming offer
  • allowing Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement holders to take up CS agreements alongside their HLS agreement, for example, to create or restore habitats
  • bringing some Higher Tier options into Mid Tier to support wider take-up of biodiversity-friendly options, and increasing options available in the Wildlife Offers and Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Packages
  • introducing an annual declaration in place of the current burdensome revenue claim process for all CS agreements.

The Higher Tier and Mid-Tier and Wildlife Offer windows will open again shortly for applications, so do consider applying.

Building on the success of Countryside Stewardship, we’ve decided to evolve Countryside Stewardship to include what we’d originally planned for Local Nature Recovery, rather than introducing a new Local Nature Recovery scheme.

Countryside Stewardship Plus will reward farmers for taking coordinated action, working with neighbouring farms and landowners to support climate and nature aims.

This will enable us to achieve our original ambitions through a faster, smoother and familiar route. We’ll continue to evolve the scheme over the course of this year and into 2024.

The evolution of the Countryside Stewardship scheme will see around 30 additional actions available to farmers by the end of 2024. As the schemes evolve over the next 2 years, we intend to offer SFI and CS in a single, integrated service. You’ll be able to select a combination of actions from both schemes that work for you. 

We are working to make the transition as smooth as possible. Where there are similar actions in both SFI and CS we’ll maintain parity of payment rates across both schemes. So, if you're already carrying out actions in CS you are not at a disadvantage.

People with a CS agreement can also have a SFI agreement, so long as we are not paying for the same actions twice on the same piece of land, and the actions for which we are paying are compatible.

The scheme will include what’s currently available through the England Woodland Creation Offer, once that scheme has transitioned. We will also improve access for tenants and expand access to Higher Tier options and agreements.

Landscape Recovery

Landscape Recovery funds a smaller number of longer-term, larger-scale, bespoke projects to enhance the natural environment and deliver significant benefits.

Last summer, we announced the 22 projects chosen for the first round of the scheme. These projects represent hundreds of farmers and landowners working together.

The majority involve groups of land managers and farmers, including tenants, working together to deliver a range of environmental benefits across farmland and rural landscapes.

The projects are boosting biodiversity, improving water quality, reducing flood risk and helping us reach net zero. For example, restoring and protecting 700km of rivers to provide habitats for 263 species including the water vole, otter, pine marten, lapwing, great crested newt, European eel and marsh fritillary. 

We blogged with an update on the first round Landscape Recovery projects last month and will feature more projects on the blog in the coming months.

We will open applications for further rounds of Landscape Recovery in spring this year and in 2024. 

The second round will focus on net zero, protected sites and habitat creation.

This could include landscape-scale projects creating and enhancing woodland, peatland, nature reserves and protected sites such as ancient woodlands, wetlands and salt marshes.

We will take on up to 25 projects, depending on the quality of the applications. 

We will share more information for potential applicants in the coming weeks through a series of webinars. We'll blog with the details and dates soon. 

Plan for the future

To help you manage the transition and plan, you can get free advice from an independent provider.

In this post, I’ve just covered our environmental land management schemes. The guidance for every scheme and grant on offer can be found on the Funding for farmers and land managers page on GOV.UK. 

Over the course of the year, we’ll continue to learn from our pilots, tests and trials, and engagement with farmers and other expert practitioners.

We’ll also continue to improve farm regulation and support farm productivity, innovation, research and development. 

Subscribe to the Future Farming blog for updates from the team along the way.

Finally, I've set up a thread on The Farming Forum, for you to share your thoughts and to ask me questions about our environmental land management schemes. You're very welcome to leave a comment or question on this post too.

Sharing and comments

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  1. Comment by John Calder posted on

    When and where can I read the SFI Standards themselves?

  2. Comment by Ian. Grice&son posted on

    This is sounding much more user friendly. We have to adapt constantly, so we need schemes that do also , don’t forget there is never two fields alike, the one over the hedge can be completely different.

    • Replies to Ian. Grice&son>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Ian,

      We're glad you think so! Flexibility and clarity are really important. We’re building the service so you can see what options are available on each parcel of land.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  3. Comment by James posted on

    When you say,

    "allowing Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement holders to take up CS agreements alongside their HLS agreement, for example, to create or restore habitats"

    Does this mean they can enter into into mid tier and/or higher tier on parcels not already within the HLS agreement? or could say a new higher option overlap on the HLS where there is an additional benefit?

    Thank you

    • Replies to James>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi James,

      Land parcels in an HLS agreement are only eligible for CS if they are not under an HLS management option. If you choose to put a CS agreement on land in an HLS agreement, you must make sure that there is sufficient space for all the options and items in both agreements, the same actions are not being funded twice, and the actions required in your existing agreement and your new CS agreement are compatible. It is also possible to end your ES agreement early without penalty if you are successful in securing a place on another land management agreement that delivers equivalent or greater environmental value.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  4. Comment by Peter Sutton posted on

    Is there a maximum limit as to what each holding can claim?

    • Replies to Peter Sutton>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Peter,

      There's no maximum for what a holding can claim under SFI.

      The only cap to mention is the SFI Management Payment, which we talk about in the post. We will pay a £20 per hectare (ha) management payment per year, for up to the first 50 hectares entered into SFI actions. This will represent a maximum payment of up to £1,000 per year.

      Best wishes,
      The Team.

      • Replies to The Team>

        Comment by Elton Moulds posted on

        The SFI management payment of £20ha (up to £1000) - is that added automatically onto the agreement? . I assumed it was but don't see it on my agreement. I wonder whether i should have ticked a box somewhere on the application form and have missed it?

  5. Comment by James Moon posted on

    Good to see the roll out is coming quickly and can be added to all those who have recently signed up to SFI. The existing application is simple , just hope we can add more elements easily. Especially hedges and woodland.
    James Moon. Farm Consultant Cornwall

    • Replies to James Moon>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi James,

      Thanks for getting in touch. We're really pleased that you found the process simple. Feedback from the farming community helped us make it so!

      We'll continue to do all we can to keep things simple and straightforward as more options become available.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  6. Comment by Simon Bath posted on

    The 110 page document is readable only as as an Html. I have tried to save it as a Pdf but won’t allow me. Can the document be resent out in a Pdf form?

    Also your documents last 3 years have come less user friendly. You used to produce excellent ones for likes of ELS and HLS and early mid tier rules.
    Not sure why the trend towards what has been release today.

    Maybe as likes of ELS, HLS , early Mid tier were produced as hardback versions and pdfs worked off these rather than 2022-2023 ways of sending this out.

    Please offer a PDF version of the ELMS / SFI ?

    Also with all the rules, and offers shown since 2021-2022 conception, be good to show what is the definitive rule book in one complete document and then can delete previously saved documents as being out of date.
    I find the proflific information as clear as mud. Seems easier to read summaries from companies and or the Farming Press.

    • Replies to Simon Bath>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Simon,

      Thanks for your comment. We thought it might be helpful to share the rationale behind using HTML.

      Across government, HTML is encouraged as the default when it comes to publishing content. This format resizes to fit any screen which is important because we know 50% of users now view content on a tablet or mobile.

      PDFs are difficult to download in remote rural areas with poor broadband connections. HTML doesn't need to be downloaded.

      More importantly, unless created with sufficient care, PDFs tend to be bad for accessibility. They're hard to use with a screen reader for people with visual difficulties. Colleagues over at the Government Digital Service wrote a blog post which goes into more detail:

      That said, you're right. There is a lot of content. You'll see that in today's publication, we've grouped the options according to the type of land or feature they relate to. We've also put in 'jump links' so you can get to the information you need faster.

      Getting people to the content they need is a priority. At the moment, we're developing simple summaries, groups of options and other guidance to help make it really straightforward to see what's likely to be relevant to you, as part of our work to design and improve our service. If you have any thoughts, our content team would be glad to hear them. As soon as those summaries are available, we'll publish them here on the blog.

      Finally, the 'Funding for farmers and land managers' page on GOV.UK contains a list of every scheme and grant available. We've divided them into one-off payments and ongoing payments.

      For an overview, the Payments for Farmers booklet can be found in PDF form (because this is printed off and posted to BPS recipients). Please note, though, that it'll be updated soon.

      If you go to the very bottom of the policy document, you'll see there is an option to print, which converts the file into PDF. Please note that the most up-to-date version will always be the online version.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

    • Replies to Simon Bath>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Simon,

      After reflecting on your feedback and the feedback of others in the thread, we created a PDF version of the document to sit alongside the HTML version.

      Here's the link to both:

      Thanks for your feedback, it is appreciated.
      The Team

  7. Comment by Terry Lobb posted on

    I'm already in a SFI scheme, when do we get details of the 6 new standards ?Now is the time for us to be looking at the detail not ounce spring arrives as we will have so much more field work to do.

    • Replies to Terry Lobb>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Terry,

      Great to hear that you're already in SFI. We're working on this now and will publish the details of the new standards as soon as we can - this will be before we open for applications.

      If you subscribe to the blog, you'll be notified as soon as guidance is published

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  8. Comment by Iain posted on

    Seems a bit unfair that existing Capital Agreements won't be getting the new higher rate. What was the reason for that decision.

    • Replies to Iain>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Iain,

      We listened to feedback from farmers and landowners and have now amended the scope of the updated capital payment rates to allow more farmers to benefit from the higher rates. Changes to capital rates will now apply to capital items in CS agreements which began on or after 1 January 2023.

      We hope this clarifies.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  9. Comment by Dave Turner posted on

    "There’s something for everyone in our schemes and grants". I dont see anything for a smallholder with less than a hectare of land?

    • Replies to Dave Turner>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hello Dave,

      There is no minimum or maximum limit on the amount of land that can be entered into the Sustainable Farming Incentive, so you can certainly look into that.

      We've introduced the SFI management payment to recognise the costs to farmers of taking part in the scheme - we know that administrative costs can disproportionately affect smaller farms. We'll pay £20 per hectare for the first 50 hectares entered into the scheme up to a maximum payment of £1,000 per year. It will apply to all farms but will particularly benefit farms that are smaller than 50 hectares.

      You might've seen that we recently increased both revenue and capital Countryside Stewardship payments and we're working on making the enhanced Countryside Stewardship more accessible to smaller farms. It's worth mentioning that those with smaller holdings are welcome to apply to Landscape Recovery as part of a group.

      For a complete view, this page on GOV.UK contains links to the guidance on every scheme and grant on offer We'll create more tailored content arranged by farm types soon.

      We hope this helps. Don't forget you can get free, independent business advice too:

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  10. Comment by Denise Seely posted on

    I agree with Simon Bath - this document should be available in PDF form so that it can be downloaded and printed then read at any time and revisited from a certain point.
    Also all the grants should be available in XLS spreadsheets to enable selection. I imagine they are produced in a spreadsheet.
    The internet access is not good in remote areas hence the requirement to download a document and read at leisure. Please do this.

  11. Comment by Katherine Kent posted on

    With prices rising and the cost of fencing materials going up, I can no longer afford to take advantage of the capital works for fencing grant in my 2021 Stewardship agreement and do the fencing I had planned. Will there be an increase in the support for fencing for 2021 scheme?

    • Replies to Katherine Kent>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Katherine,

      As you may be aware, in January this year we updated our payment rates for capital items in CS.

      While this only applies automatically for agreements starting on or after 1 January 2023, if you have not yet started your capital works, you may be able to withdraw that part of your existing agreement, or cancel it entirely if appropriate, and apply for a new agreement to cover the remaining work, at the updated rates.

      If you want to check whether you would be eligible to do this, please contact the RPA. And for more information, please take a look at this post

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  12. Comment by Simon Bath posted on

    Thanks Team. PDF version downloaded and saved to my iPAD and fully funcitional. Only comment, would be good any further updates you include some colour images of some of the options available to farmers that we used to see in the ELS, HLS books ok produced by Natural England another Gov department. Likes of pollen nectar, winter bird food, etc .

    the summary of SFI standards for 2023 is excellent in the book. easy read and take it from there though doesn't show any codes that may refer to any application.

  13. Comment by Chloe Lumsdon posted on

    Will CS Higher Tier applications be open next year? 2024 for a 2025 start date?


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