What are the Opportunities for Farmers and Landowners?

20th December 2018

As we head towards 2019, David Morley Head of Conservation and Environment for H&H Land and Property reviews the highs and lows of the 2018 Rural Grants and Schemes and looks at what 2019 might hold.

 

In 2018, Basic Payment Scheme [BPS] claims were made much more complex by an extensive re-mapping exercise undertaken by the Rural Payments Agency [RPA] over the winter. Many of the mapping changes it made were wrong, and a significant amount of time was needed to correct these errors. The fear now is that this could delay payments, although the RPA still seems confident it will meet its target of paying 90% of claims by the end of December. Farmers are now starting to receive their 2018 BPS payments, but only time will tell if the target will be met.

As the RPA are not making many mapping changes this winter, hopefully 2019 BPS claims will be more straightforward. The 2019 claim window will probably open in mid March.

Another positive is that the RPA finally seems to be getting on top of some of the oldest BPS issues, some dating back to 2015. We have recently seen significant number of top-up payments being made for previous scheme years.

The Hedgerows & Boundaries Grant, which pays up to £10,000 for hedgerow and dry stone wall restoration, was available from mid-January to the end of April 2018 and proved popular with our clients. Agreements were issued in late summer, and we were pleased to hear that almost all applicants were offered an agreement.

We are expecting this Grant to be offered again in 2019, probably with a similar application window. As the application process is relatively simple, this is a grant which is well worth considering.

 

As regards the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, the application window for Mid-Tier was open from the middle of January until the end of August 2018. It was originally intended that the window would close at the end of July, but as Natural England were unable to issue all the application packs in time, the deadline was extended.

Across our H&H Land and Property offices in Carlisle, Durham and Kendal this year we were involved in over 50 applications, which was significantly more than in 2017. With only about 5000 applications submitted nationally, overall demand for the scheme remains relatively weak. This may be partly due to the fact that it is still plagued by a complex application process and an onerous burden of evidence requirements and record keeping.

This year we have also seen the launch of the “simplified” offers for wildlife, designed to ease the administrative burden, with a simplified application process for pre-packaged groups of options. Unfortunately we found most farms were not able to meet the criteria for using these offers, in the main because they preclude applying for capital works funding, which is one of the few attractive aspects of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

In 2017, Natural England had great difficulty in issuing agreement offers before the agreements were actually due to start on 1st January 2018. Fortunately, this year, things look more hopeful, with some agreements having already been offered. We are anticipating that the application window for 2019 will run from mid-February 2019 to the end of July, but this is still to be confirmed.

The Higher Tier of Countryside Stewardship is a scheme aimed at farms that can offer significant conservation gains, including those with SSSI and/or priority habitats and species on their holding. We were involved in a number of applications, including the first proposed schemes on common land. As with Mid-Tier, the application process has proven onerous and time-consuming and Natural England have struggled to find enough resources to devote the time required for all applications.

With the proposal to extend some Higher Level Stewardship agreements, where they are delivering the environmental benefits Natural England are looking for, we are hoping the situation may improve in 2019. As we currently understand it, extensions are likely to be for one year at a time, so my advice to anyone who has an HLS agreement due to expire in 2019, is that they should seriously consider an extension, if they are offered the opportunity to do so. This is because the HLS payments are almost certain to be higher than the equivalent Higher Tier CS scheme and the record keeping requirements will be less onerous. The only downside to extending an HLS agreement is that it is unlikely that there would be any funding for new capital works.

Despite working with schemes that are less than ideal, overall 2018 has been a successful year for H&H Land and Property in terms of Grant Applications, and hopefully 2019 should see more of the same.

Although we are scheduled to be leaving the EU in March, the Treasury have guaranteed the same level of funding through to 2022 and will continue to support the current schemes in the meantime. Looking further ahead, there are moves afoot to replace both BPS and CS with a new environmental scheme that will offer “public money for public goods”. Although it is likely to be another 6-8 years at least before this scheme will be available to all, farmers should be looking at their business now, to make sure it is resilient in the face of the reductions in direct payments in the coming years.

My advice to farmers and landowners for 2019, therefore, is to grasp all the opportunities through grants and schemes that are suitable for your farming business.

 

H&H Land and Property, Durham – 0191 370 8530

H&H Land and Property, Carlisle – 01228 406260

H&H Land and Property, Thornhill – 01848 260395

H&H Land and Property, Newtown St Boswells – 01835 344860

H&H Land and Property, Kendal – 01539 721375