The new Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) is about to be formally launched by Natural England (NE) with applications invited for the Mid and Higher Tiers between the 1st July and 30th September with agreements starting from 1st January 2016. The scheme boosts some 130 management options and 110 capital items to chose from many of which are recognisable from the previous environmental schemes.

The CSS is predominantly a competitive scheme with applications scored by NE for value for money and benefit to the environment. This is a step change from the Entry Level Scheme (ELS) whereby if you met the points threshold you were accepted onto the scheme.

It is important to note that in most cases applications cannot be made for a CSS agreement on a land parcel that will already be funded under ELS or HLS on the 1st January 2016 (some HLS’s expiring in 2016 may be allowed to finish early and transfer to the CSS ).

The CSS is made up of:

  • Mid-Tier – A 5 year agreement for environmental improvements in the wider countryside (includes management options and capital items).
  • Higher-Tier – A predominantly invitation led application process for environmentally significant sites such as commons, woodland, SSSI’s etc where complex management options require support from NE staff (5 or 10 year agreements depending on options chosen).
  • Capital Grants – A range of 1-2 year grants for hedges and boundaries – Not available in the 2015 application window

To get the best chance of acceptance into the CSS applicants will need to read the “Statement of Priorities” relevant to the location of their farm and to choose options that deliver on the key issues for the area. To further enhance the chances of an agreement offer options under the Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package need to be also chosen. Under the Mid-Tier scheme these options should be applied over 3%-5% of the farmed area and under the Higher-Tier 5%-10% of the farmed area.

Organic farmers can take advantage of an additional 11 options that are only available to organic holdings including conversion payments and management of organic land. The conversion and maintenance options are not competitive and will be offered subject to budget availability.

We consider that for the majority of applicants the Mid-Tier will be the most suitable as a result of the Higher-Tier being that much more targeted towards significant sites (more so than the old HLS). Under the CSS payments will be based on the number of options chosen and not on an area basis like the ELS therefore the more options chosen the more grant you will be able to claim.

Carver Knowles has an excellent track record working with NE staff and farmers putting together environmental schemes that deliver for both the environment and the farmers in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. If your ELS or HLS agreement has expired or is due to expire before the end of the year and you are looking to take advantage of the new CSS please do not hesitate to contact us to assist you in successfully putting together a scheme that works for you and for the environment.

Please contact Mike Cluley for further information.