Hopes of a ‘Green Brexit’ are at risk if the Government does not make immediate improvements to the Countryside Stewardship scheme, according to the CLA.
The organisation has published an improvement plan today (17 August) which provides clear direction on how to fix the troubled scheme.
CLA President Tim Breitmeyer said: “Farmers and land managers are rightly proud of their environmental delivery achieved with the support of agri-environment schemes. The basics of Countryside Stewardship are good and when it works it can benefit rural businesses and the environment.
“However, too many CLA members are telling us that the shambolic administration of the existing Countryside Stewardship is putting them off wanting to engage in any new scheme.
“Without improvements, there is a real risk that farmers and land managers will lose confidence in agri-environment schemes altogether, putting at risk the Government’s hopes of a Green Brexit.”
The CLA’s improvement plan sets out seven key asks across three phases between now and 2022 when a new scheme is likely to begin. Starting immediately until the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, the CLA calls on the Government to address the short-term resourcing of Countryside Stewardship to clear the backlog of delayed payments, and for greater flexibility in measures designed to encourage tree planting.
During the implementation period from the point of Brexit to December 2020, the CLA suggests allowing land managers to continue within their existing Higher-Level Stewardship agreement for 2019, 2020 and if needs be, 2021 scheme years and asks that oversight is not retained by the European Commission post-2020 to ensure the UK does not face restrictions in the improvements it can make.
Before introducing a new scheme after 2020, the CLA proposes moving to rolling start dates to help both farmers and agencies cope with the administration. Ensuring those who signed up to Countryside Stewardship are not unfairly disadvantaged by future schemes as part of the industry’s ‘Gove Guarantee’, and expanding the range of environmental and public benefits that can be delivered by land managers under Countryside Stewardship completes the CLA’s recommendations to fix the scheme.
Mr Breitmeyer added: “We will be engaging with policy officials in Defra to take them through our improvement plan in greater detail. Fixing Countryside Stewardship now offers a real opportunity to design a future scheme that motivates and incentivises farmers to deliver the Government’s goal of leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation.”
Click here to read the CLA’s Improvement Plan for Countryside Stewardship.