HLS scheme needs High Levels of Scrutiny

22nd November 2011

“The Higher Level Stewardship Scheme aims to deliver significant environmental benefits in priority areas,” says Natural England, and the government has been writing to farmers to invite them to join the new scheme.

With a number of Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) Agreements scheduled to end in 2012, farmers within the targeted areas have been receiving invitations to apply to enter Higher Level Stewardship Agreements. However, even if farmers have been invited to apply they are not guaranteed entry. Quick responses are needed to ensure being in the pipeline for schemes that start October 2012.

“If you are considering responding, you should do so quickly, but carefully”, says Andrew Jamieson of George F White. “The application must demonstrate merit to gain HLS entry, but applicants need to be sure that it doesn’t compromise the business performance of the farm.”

The new scheme applies to Natural England’s targeted environmental areas and could provide significant benefits to farmers as well as the environment, but anyone seeking to enter, should tread with care. Gains won from the scheme could compromise profitability, and applications should only follow a careful review of the farm’s environment and potential.

Andrew Jamieson continues: “Those farms that have been invited to enter the HLS will need to ensure they instruct a qualified Farm Environment Plan (FEP) Surveyor who will visit the farm to complete a survey of the existing environmental features, habitats and creatures present. To design a scheme which demonstrates sufficient merit to gain entry without compromising business efficiency. It really is essential that professional advice is sought from the outset.”

“The FEP will identify HLS potential on your holding and will be combined with the theme of your specific target area to help design the options included within your application. The target theme could be for example be target birds which include Corn Buntings, Grey Partridge and Lapwings or alternatively being within the target catchment areas of the Lower Coquet, North Tyne & Rede, Wansbeck, Lindisfarne Streams and the River Leven”.

Entry to the HLS scheme will result in a ten year management plan being put in place to deliver environmental benefits to the holding. Opportunities may exist within the application to include capital works such as fencing and walling, hedge planting or pond creation. Andrew concluded that “the income generation from a 10 year environmental scheme can be considerable, however this must be balanced against the potential loss of income from the options entered into and often talks through these factors with potential entrants”.

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