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Countryside Stewardship: delivering for farmers and the environment

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Countryside Stewardship, environmental land management schemes
Alison Day

As part of our transition to environmental land management, we announced that we would evolve Countryside Stewardship.

Countryside Stewardship (CS) provides financial incentives for farmers, foresters and land managers to look after and improve the environment. Through the scheme, thousands of farmers are being paid for the valuable work they do. 

In this post, we’ll give you a refresher, share some facts and figures and explain how you can get involved.  

Countryside Stewardship: an overview 

The main offers in CS are:  

CS Higher Tier

Higher Tier grants are offered for multi-year management options and capital items for the most environmentally important sites. These include commons and woodlands. They are usually in places that need complex management. For example, creating or restoring habitats and improving woodland. 

There’s still time to apply for a CS Higher Tier agreement for 2024. We'll accept applications until 28 April 2023. 

CS Mid Tier and Wildlife Offers

The aim of Mid Tier is to protect and enhance the natural environment through multi-year management and capital grants. They are improve the diversity of wildlife, water quality, air quality and natural flood management. Wildlife Offers are part of Mid Tier and provide a simpler set of options to help improve wildlife in 4 different farming types.

The application window for CS Mid Tier and Wildlife Offer agreements, to start from 1 January 2024, is open until 18 August 2023.

CS Capital Grants

Capital Grants are 3-year agreements offering capital items to achieve specific environmental benefits. We've introduced Higher Tier Capital Grants which offer capital items to achieve additional environmental benefits alongside existing Higher Tier agreements.

Applications for capital grants are open all year round. 

CS Facilitation Fund

The Facilitation Fund brings together groups of people who collaborate to improve environmental outcomes in their local area.  

The application period closed 25 January 2023. June 1 is the start date for CS Facilitation Fund 2023 agreements applied for in 2022/23.

The popularity of Countryside Stewardship

Participation in Countryside Stewardship has grown in recent years. In January 2023, there were around 32,000 CS agreements, a 94% increase from 2020.  

The most popular element of CS is Mid Tier which, including the Wildlife Offers, accounts for around 87% of all CS agreements.

There are also 2,700 Higher Tier and 1,500 Higher Tier Woodland agreements, which deliver on the most environmentally significant sites.

The graph below shows the number of CS agreements from 2018.

Number of CS agreements over 2018 – 2023:

There is good uptake across England. The highest number of agreements are found in Devon, East Anglia and North Yorkshire. 

Number of live CS agreements per region
Copyright: EuroGeographics for the administrative boundaries

CS provides annual payments for a wide range of activities on different land types, supporting the conservation and restoration of habitat and protecting the historic environment, as well as improving air and water quality. 

Many of the most popular revenue options focus on improving biodiversity. The following options appear in over 5,000 live agreements: 

  • CS Option GS2: Management of permanent grassland with very low inputs outside severely disadvantaged areas (SDAs). An option which provides nectar and shelter for invertebrates and an increased food supply for birds. There are currently 247,000 hectares (ha) in this option.
  • CS Option BE3: Management of Hedgerows. In which hedges are managed to increase the availability of blossom for invertebrates and food is provided for overwintering birds. This option also helps maintain hedgerows as distinctive and historic landscape features. There are currently 52,800km of hedgerow in this option, representing one side of the hedge.
  • CS Option AB9: Winter bird food. This provides important food resources for farmland birds, especially in autumn and winter. This option also benefits insects including bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies. There are currently 44,000ha in this option.
  • CS Option SW1: 4-6 meter buffer strips on cultivated land. This provides habitat for wildlife and can form links or corridors between other habitats. Next to a watercourse, this option also prevents pollutants, such as sediment and nutrients, from being transported in surface water runoff. There are currently 16,000ha in this option.
  • CS Option AB8: Flower-rich margins and plots. This option provides important habitat and foraging sites for invertebrates, including wild pollinators such as bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies, and farmland birds including the yellowhammer. There are currently 32,000ha in this option.
  • CS Option GS1: Taking small areas out of management on grassland. This provides year-round habitat and food for a range of wildlife within grass fields. There are currently 2,300ha is this option.

Capital grants are also an important element of CS. 64% of Mid Tier and Higher Tier revenue agreements contain at least one capital item. Popular capital items include:  

  • fencing (CS Option FG1) and sheep netting (CS Option FG2), used to protect habitat or environmental features, support grazing options and prevent water pollution.
  • items linked to preventing diffuse water pollution, such as concrete yard renewal (CS Option RP15) and roofing (CS Option RP28), used to prevent rainfall getting into areas of a farm such as sprayer washdown areas, manure storage areas, livestock gathering areas, slurry stores and silage stores.
  • items to create and restore hedgerows, such as planting new hedges (CS Option BN11), hedgerow gapping up (CS Option BN7) and hedgerow coppicing (CS Option BN6).
  • stone wall restoration (CS Option BN12, along with supplements BN13, BN14, BN15), which is important to conserve traditional landscapes, notably in the uplands.
  • major preparatory works for priority habitats and species (CS Option FM2), designed to support large scale restoration and creation of priority habitats and bespoke management for priority species for Higher Tier agreements.

There are also currently 1,500 capital-only agreements. The majority of these are for Woodland Management Plans 

You can search for options, supplements and capital items to include in your Countryside Stewardship application using the Countryside Stewardship grant finder on GOV.UK

Delivering for the environment  

Countryside Stewardship supports the government's 25 Year Environment Plan. It also supports Defra’s strategic objective of ‘a cleaner, healthier environment, benefitting people and the economy’. 

There are 2,307,258ha of mapped priority habitats in England, with around 46% of mapped priority habitats in an agri-environment or woodland scheme. For example: 

  • 23% of England's upland heathland is under a CS agreement, with a further 45% in Environmental Stewardship (ES). This represents a total of approximately 160,000ha under agreement.  
  • 28% of lowland meadows are in CS, with a further 38% in ES, giving a total of just over 17,500ha under agreement.  
  • 25% of blanket bog is in CS, with a further 43% in ES, giving a total of approximately 164,000ha under agreement 

The Natural England-led Agri-Environment Evidence Programme seeks to monitor and evaluate existing agri-environment schemes, including CS. The majority of CS scheme options are well-located and well-implemented. Under the following themes, we also found:


The placement and choice of options were generally aligned with appropriate habitats and features. There’s opportunity to further target Mid Tier agreements to provide additional benefit to biodiversity.

Climate change adaptation and mitigation

CS appears to perform well in identifying and managing highly climate-vulnerable features.  As a whole, Mid Tier and Higher Tier schemes resulted in reductions in GHG (greenhouse gas emissions), with the majority of emission reductions arising from a few options with high coverage. There’s further scope for CS options to contribute to climate change adaptation through restoration or the creation of priority habitats.

Protection of resources (for example, water and soil)

Appropriate selection of options and capital items was identified in approximately half of agreements. There is scope for greater use of capital items supporting water quality and mitigating flood risk.

Historic Environment

Historic Environment (HE) options were considered to be implemented well. Options were more likely to be conserving or maintaining historic features, with only 6% assessed as enhancing feature condition. Non-HE specific options, for example, those for grasslands, and buffer strips, generally had a neutral or positive impact on historic features.

Landscape character

Generally, options were assessed to be having a positive impact —enhancing, conserving, maintaining — on landscape character.

Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund (CSFF)

Groups were found to positively contribute to maintaining, enhancing and creating Natural Capital through the application of CS options, delivering additional positive effects beyond that which would be achieved by individual holdings. CSFFs also promoted trust between members and improving social connection between the people taking part.

To find out more about these and other findings, visit the Natural England Access to Evidence site

Learn more and apply  

If you’re interested in applying, you can find out more in the Countryside Stewardship guidance on GOV.UK.

As mentioned, applications for Mid Tier and Wildlife Offers, Higher Tier and Capital Only grants are all now open.  

Do take a look at Rural payments and grants and Funding for Farmers and Land Mangers on GOV.UK

Evolving our environmental land management offer

We’ll evolve our land management schemes in the coming years to improve how they work for farmers and to deliver more for the environment. 

This will include introducing additional actions, improved access for tenant farmers and increased access to Higher Tier options. 

We’ll also introduce Countryside Stewardship Plus to encourage the right things to happen in the right places, enable local join-up to deliver bigger and better results and facilitate testing of innovative payment mechanisms, including payment by results.   

If you have any questions for the team, comment below.

The data used in this post was taken at 23 January 2023. 

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  1. Comment by James Fanshawe posted on

    Why not publish how you have calculated the grassland rates?

    Why is Higher Tier CS only being offered to larger estates?

    You are in danger of believing your own PR. Many farmers would prefer to increase production and not be bothered with CS bureaucracy and complication.

    • Replies to James Fanshawe>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi James,

      CS High Tier agreements are available to a wide range of farmers and land managers, including tenants and on commons. If you are interested in applying for a Higher Tier agreement, we would encourage you to contact Natural England.

      We are listening to feedback from farmers and have made a number of changes to CS , including adjustments to the administration of the scheme with applications and payments being processed faster than ever, and improving our approach to enforcement making it fairer and more proportionate.

      We’ve also increased payment rates on both revenue and capital items mean that farmers and land managers are being paid more.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  2. Comment by David posted on

    Is it possible to apply for the Wildlife Offer for the GS4 legume and herb rich sward alongside the Capital Grant for fencing FG2?

    Or is this best completed by a Mid Tier scheme application?

    • Replies to David>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi David,

      In order to combine FG2 with GS4, you will need to apply for a Mid Tier agreement.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  3. Comment by Heather Webb posted on

    Hi team, if a landowner has an existing HLS agreement which is due to roll over for another 5 years, can they apply for a new Stewardship Higher Tier agreement on the same land parcels for new/additional options not included in the HLS?

    • Replies to Heather Webb>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Heather,

      Land parcels in an HLS agreement are eligible for CS Higher Tier revenue options and capital items if they are not under an HLS management option.

      If you choose to put a CS Higher Tier 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 Higher Tier 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 David posted on

    I am currently attempting to apply for a mid tier application online.

    On the HEFER there are two parcels with archaeological features.

    We are unable to assign the GS4 option to these two parcels, which I assume is due to the result of the HEFER. The GS4 guidance was updated last year so that it couldn’t apply to the feature area rather than the whole parcel, but I assume that this feature could apply to the remainder of the field not covered by the feature.

    Could you let me know how to proceed? Do we need to submit a paper form?

    • Replies to David>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi David,

      The best thing to do is to contact the Rural Payments Agency.


      Telephone: 03000 200 301
      Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm, except bank holidays

      Write to:
      Rural Payments Agency (CS)
      PO Box 324
      S95 1DF

      You'll need your single business identifier (SBI) and agreement number handy.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  5. Comment by Matt posted on


    Where can I find a figure for the average number of points scored by a mid tier agreement?


    • Replies to Matt>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Matt,

      We suggest you drop a line to the RPA (they handle the administration of Countryside Stewardship).

      You can contact RPA by email, phone or post.

      Rural Payments Agency (CS)
      PO Box 324
      S95 1DF


      Telephone: 03000 200 301
      Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm, except bank holidays
      Find out about call charges

      Please quote your single business identifier (SBI) and agreement number in all enquiries.

      Best wishes,
      The Team


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