Start Date For New Agri-Environment Schemes Delayed

3rd July 2013

On-going negotiations for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy have delayed the implementation date for the new programme to January 2015 and with it the implementation of the next tranche of the Rural Development Programme for England which funds Agri-environment Schemes (AES). Key meetings on CAP Reform were held between the ‘trialogue’ of the European Council, European Commission and European Parliament on 24th – 26th June, which set out that member states can continue to design their own programmes. However, this has still left many farmers and landowners who have AES’s due to expire in 2014 in limbo.

DEFRA is currently considering the possibility of keeping the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme open in 2014, potentially for holdings meeting certain conditions. Natural England has recently written to targeted landowners who are currently in an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) or Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS), which will expire in 2014. Where these landowners are in priority areas, they are being invited to commission a Farm Environment Plan (FEP) now with a view to their holding being entered into a HLS in 2014 if the scheme remains open next year.

Whilst no decision has been made as yet on whether there will be an HLS programme in 2014, and as the HLS scheme has always been discretionary, landowners should not take these letters as a formal commitment that they will be offered an HLS agreement on their holding. However, a FEP is a pre-requisite for a HLS application and must be completed during spring and summer. Therefore, the creation of one in 2013 will save time and allow for a smooth transition to a new HLS scheme in 2014.

Work is being carried out nationally on the design for a successor to the current RDPE (2007-2013). Defra made a strong Rural Development Programme a priority in the CAP negotiations, and pressed for more of the CAP budget to be spent on Pillar II. Work is also underway to design a New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS) as part of the new programme. Building on good practice and lessons from the current programme, it aims to incorporate the best elements of Environmental Stewardship, Catchment Sensitive Farming and the England Woodland Grants Scheme into the new scheme.

The Commission had planned that new NELMS Programmes would start from 1 January 2014. However, it has now acknowledged that this is unrealistic and they are planning for the new programme to start on 1 January 2015. Ministers have decided that, from 2015 onwards, all new Environmental Stewardship agreements will have a single start date of 1 January in every year, rather than monthly start dates as at present.

In addition, the claim periods for all current ES agreements will be re-aligned to a January to December year. This means that, for example, an agreement starting on 1 May and ending 30 April would be re-aligned so that the claim period is synchronised to January to December, with annual payments being for work undertaken from January to December, rather than for May to April.

George F. White have an experienced team dealing with all aspects of AES’s both old and new for individuals, landlords, tenants and farmers with commons grazing rights, and have a dedicated CAP Reform team keeping up to date with the latest developments in the European Union.

For further information on the creation of a FEP, transition to a HLS scheme, the upcoming CAP Reform or simply a discussion on how the changes may affect your holding, please contact Pippa Cartwright or Matthew Brown on 01677 425301.

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