Mechanisms which provide funding to farmers and land managers in exchange for certain activities benefitting the environment are called Agri-environment schemes. Effectively these use agricultural subsidies to influence positive management or ‘stewardship’ of farm landscapes and wildlife. These activities may involve hedgerows, field corners and margins of fields or specify types and amounts of fertiliser inputs, earliest cutting dates of hayfields or the use of specific crops that benefit birds or pollinators. More involved schemes entail habitat creation or restoration within the farmed landscape.
The agri environment scheme promoted by the Carrs Wetland Project was called ‘Environmental Stewardship.’ (Replaced in 2015 by an updated scheme called ‘Countryside Stewardship) It allocated European agricultural subsidies according to a formula devised by Natural England. There were 2 tiers of Environmental Stewardship; Entry Level and Higher Level. In Entry Level farmers picked from a menu of straightforward environmental management actions in addition to basic requirements common to all. Entry Level schemes lasted five years.
Higher Level Stewardship (HLS)
Higher Level Stewardship (or HLS) involved more complex environmental management than Entry Level (ELS), requiring support and advice from local advisers. More complex types of management demand greater commitment, but yield more significant environmental gains and so they attracted correspondingly higher levels of financial support over a longer period. Agreements tailored to local circumstances were signed for ten years. All the wetland restoration options came under HLS.
Higher Level Stewardship is no longer open for new schemes, as it was superseded by Countryside Stewardship in 2015. Those already underway, such as in parts of The Carrs can continue until their expiry.
Natural England has since formulated a new generation of schemes, following European Union and DEFRA guidelines. During an extended development period it was referred to simply as the New Environmental Land Management Scheme (or NELMS) but was launched as ‘Countryside Stewardship’ (or CS) in 2015. As old HLS schemes expire it is expected that they will be encouraged to apply for Countryside Stewardship, with Higher Tier offering the financial incentives for continued wetland habitat management. Latest information on Countryside Stewardship and beyond can be found here.
Are farms in the wetland project area still signed up to HLS?
A number of agreements were signed between 2006 and 2012 by farms within The Carrs Wetland Project. At the time of updating this page, (Aug. 2017) most of the original HLS Wetland agreements are still in force. The last one begun is expected to continue until 2022. As they come to the end of their term, these farm businesses will be in a position to consider Higher Tier of Countryside Stewardship, in which wetland management options now reside. These discussions will be between the farms and Natural England directly.
The Brexit question…
In the new political landscape of ‘Brexit’ as Britain prepares to leave the EU, domestic agricultural policy is in a period of uncertainty but the current CS schemes will be offered for a few more years (until 2022) up to and after the point of departing the Union. The newly appointed Environment Secretary Michael Gove recently indicated in what has been referred to as his ‘Green Brexit’ speech, that public money in exchange for public goods will continue to be the mode of funding, thus farmers will earn their subsidies not on food production but on the environmental and land management benefits they provide. These include, for example flood management, biodiversity and climate change mitigation, perhaps even carbon sequestration, which is an exciting prospect for The Carrs with its 20 million cubic metres of carbon- rich peat soils.
On the future of farming support, Mr Gove said in his speech on 21/07/17 :
“This Government has pledged that when we leave the EU we will match the £3 billion that farmers currently receive in support from the CAP until 2022. And I want to ensure that we go on generously supporting farmers for many more years to come. But that support can only be argued for against other competing public goods if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear.”
Landowners interested in Countryside Stewardship should speak to their Natural England Land Management Advisor in the first instance to discuss their options.