Countryside Stewardship Scheme: Where are we now, and how does that affect my application?

The evolution of Countryside Stewardship as a policy has seen significant changes, reflecting the UK government's commitment to promoting environmentally sustainable farming practices while adapting to feedback and evolving priorities.

Initially, the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme aimed to replace previous stewardship schemes, causing concerns about the discontinuation of successful initiatives like Countryside Stewardship.

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme since 2023

In January 2023, the government announced a shift in approach, recognising the value of Countryside Stewardship and its potential to align with the objectives originally intended for the Local Nature Recovery (LNR) scheme. Instead, they announced LNRs would become ‘Countryside Stewardship Plus’, which represents an evolution of the existing scheme rather than the introduction of a new one. Countryside Stewardship Plus aims to build on the success of its predecessor by rewarding farmers for coordinated actions that support climate and nature aims, including collaboration with neighbouring farms and landowners. This hopes to move towards a faster, smoother, and more familiar route for achieving environmental goals.

Detail on Countryside Stewardship Plus remains vague, however, and much of the sector is eagerly awaiting clarity from Defra on precisely how this scheme will look, and how it will support farmers move toward enhanced nature recovery. 

Gorse and tree hedgerow

Glossary of schemes

  • Countryside Stewardship (CS): current environmental government scheme
  • Local Nature Recovery (LNR): previous scheme, now discontinued and integrated into Countryside Stewardship Plus
  • Countryside Stewardship Plus: As yet unconfirmed, expected to integrate LNR and CS

When can I apply?

At present, Defra has outlined that CS (Mid Tier and Higher Tier) will move to a rolling application window, with rolling start dates. According to the NFU, the expectation is that “the first applications will start this July with agreements being offered from this autumn, with monthly start dates aligning with SFI”. Nonetheless, there appears to be no fixed date as of yet, with timelines still to be confirmed.

View of a field through a wooden gate and fence

So what’s changed?

This year saw Defra make the biggest update to the farming schemes since their announcement, increasing payment rates for both SFI and Countryside Stewardship agreements. Additionally, it expanded the number of actions available under schemes by introducing up to 50 new measures.

The application process is now more streamlined, with the introduction of a single, integrated service for farmers to apply for SFI and Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier. It is expected that the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) will also be integrated into this process by 2025.

Land App Updates

Our recent product update saw the inclusion of the latest Countryside Stewardship and SFI payment rates, as well as up-to-date data to ensure the accurate calculations for earnings from grant applications. 

We also added the new codes:

  • BC3: Crop protection fencing mesh and wire for permanent crops (Boundaries)
  • BC4: Tree Guard Post and wire (Boundaries)
  • BC5: Expert dam management (Boundaries)
  • FY3: Squirrel traps and maintenance (Woodland and Wood Pasture)
  • WS1: Deer control and management (Woodland and Wood Pasture)
  • WS2: Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) – restoration and maintenance (Woodland and Wood Pasture)
  • WS3: Squirrel control and management (Woodland and Wood Pasture)
  • WS4: Access for people (Woodland and Wood Pasture)
Close up of a field of wheat

The updates to Countryside Stewardship payments represent a major increase in some areas, making the case for environmental stewardship on your land far more financially viable. Below, we’ve listed the top 10 options by percentage increase in payments, to highlight just how much some of these environmental management options have improved.

Top 10 Countryside Stewardship Scheme options by percentage increase in payment rate 

  1. WT8 Management of fen: £35.00- £920.00 = 2529%
  2. WT6 Management of reedbed: £81.00- £920.00 = 1036%
  3. UP5 Moorland re-wetting supplement: £25.00- £181.00 = 624%
  4. CT3 Management of coastal saltmarsh: £97.00- £483.00= 398%
  5. WT7 Creation of reedbed: £328.00- £1,605.00 = 389%
  6. GS15 Haymaking supplement: £37.00- £157.00 = 324%
  7. WS2 Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) – restoration and maintenance: £70.00 – £275.00 = 293%
  8. WT4 Management of ponds of high wildlife value (100sq m or less): £119.00- £424.00 = 256%
  9. GS6 Management of species-rich grassland: £182.00- £646.00 = 255%
  10. GS13 Management of grassland for target features: £152.00 – £528.00= 247%

Now payment rates have increased, and applications streamlined, Stewardship is, without doubt, a compelling option for those considering environmental management, looking for alternative funding, or diversifying their land holding. As the UK continues to undergo its agricultural transition, Stewardship will no doubt play a major part for farmers and landowners in England. 

Watch our recent webinar, on navigating Countryside Stewardship…

To get started with your application or appraise your land using our bespoke Stewardship template and validator tool, sign up today – for free.

Please note: The Countryside Stewardship Validator is only available to Standard and Professional users – learn more here.

author

Growing up on a regenerative small holding, the relationship between food systems and the natural world has long been an interest of mine. Focussing on land-use tensions and geo-politics at Oxford, and now an MSc in Sustainable Development with Exeter, my interests lie in how we can leverage policy and natural capital principles to encourage not only regenerative land management and food systems alongside investment in nature recovery, but ultimately how we can ensure social equity and robust governance at a systems level when designing environmental solutions. I’m drawn to the social elements of nature recovery and climate change adaptation, in particular the intersection of geopolitics, biodiversity economics and justice.
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