Some good new for upland farmers

RDPE Transition - Environmental Stewardship

The current Rural Development Programme (RDP) is due to finish at the end of this year, but the next RDP will not start until 2015.  Pending agreement on the legal basis and rural development budgets, Defra are planning to offer £30 million to spend on Environmental Stewardship in 2014, which is very welcome news for hill farmers in the Lake District and other upland

The bulk of this (£26 million) will be spent on top priority Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements, to be targeted at:

  • sites of Special Scientific Interest,
  • expiring Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) and Countryside Stewardship (CSS) agreements and,
  • farms that can help meet Government obligations under the Water Framework Directive.

The remaining £4 million is for Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) agreements, but these will only be available for farms that meet one of the following specific criteria:

  1. Farms with Severely Disadvantaged (SDA) land will be able to apply for Uplands Entry Level Stewardship (UELS)
  2. Organic produces will be able to apply for Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS)
  3. Farms coming out of ESA or CSS agreements that are not offered the opportunity to apply for HLS

Farms with ELS agreements that expire in 2014 will not be able to renew them.

Natural England have already invited around 70 farms in the Lake District to commission a Farm Environment Plan (FEP). This is in anticipation that HLS would be available in 2014, and it now seems likely that most of these farms will be able to secure an HLS agreement. The remaining ESA farms will be able to enter into a UELS agreement, providing all upland farms with a secure income for at least the next 5 years.

For lowland farmers, however, this announcement appears to mark the end of an environmental scheme available to all. It seems likely that this situation will continue under the new Rural Development programme, which is due to begin in 2016.

In the future, it is expected that the compulsory “greening” measures being developed as part of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will deliver the basic environmental management in the lowlands that ELS has done since 2005.

To read the letter Defra sent out to stakeholders click here