Transition Of The Rural Development Programme Agri-environment Commitments

11th September 2013

The current Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) will end on 31 December 2013 with the last Environmental Stewardship agreements starting on 1 December. The new Rural Development Programme will not be able to start until 2015 but Natural England would like to offer a package of Rural Development Programme support in the transition between programmes in 2014 that reflects the move to a more targeted funding approach.

Although the detailed rules have yet to be agreed at the EU level about the actions that Natural England will be able to support in 2014, they want to be able to provide customers with clarity about what they aim to deliver in 2014. They are planning towards delivering:

  • About 26m per year of new HLS agreement. This includes offering HLS to eligible expiring “Classic” agreements, new agreements for SSSIs and other high priority cases, and to meet Water Framework Directive objectives, including those related to Natura 2000 sites.

  • About £4m per year for new ELS agreements, but only:

    • for underpinning new HLS agreements,

    • in the uplands (Uplands ELS),

    • for land coming out of “Classic” agreements which does not meet HLS criteria, and

    • for organic producers (Organic ELS).

The option to renew agreements which expire in 2014 will be available only for Organic ELS. No HLS or Uplands ELS agreements are due to expire in 2014 and renewals will NOT be available for “standard” ELS agreements.

The CAP Reform and what will happen in 2015?

Although outline decisions have been made over CAP Reform in Europe, negotiations to determine their effect in the UK are still underway. As such it is unclear what greening and any new agri-environment schemes will look like in the programme but depending on decisions on budgets and greening requirements, the scheme on offer in the next programme may be different.

It is clear that double funding of direct payments and agri-environment schemes will not be permitted and dual use, where two parties are claiming under separate schemes on the same land, may not make it through the 2015 CAP Reform.

English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS) transitional arrangements

In the current RDPE funding round, for maximum assurance for receiving a grant, applications should have been submitted by 30 August 2013. The deadline for approval of all EWGS grants (excluding Woodland Management Grant) is 31 December 2013 in order for the Forestry Commission to process the applications to contract stage.

The Forestry Commission are still awaiting clarification of what approach Defra will take to the handling of RDPE applications during the transition period in 2014.

The English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS) subject to approval are planning towards being able to accept new applications in 2014 for:

  • Woodland Improvement Grant (WIG)

  • Woodland Planning Grant (WPG)

  • Woodland Assessment Grant (WAG

  • Woodland Regeneration Grant (WRG)

However, they are unable to offer the Woodland Creation Grant (WCG) and Woodland Management Grant (WMG), but there will be a higher level budget available for WIG for one-off investments to recognise the unavailability of these two grants. If the EU/Defra agreement allows the above plans to proceed, priority will be given to the approval of Woodland Creation Grants.

Please note – Do not start work before you have the Forestry Commission’s agreement, under European Union rules the Forestry Commission cannot support any wok that has been undertaken prior to EWGS contract.

Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme (FFIS)

Although there have been no announcements to date, it is possible that DEFRA will announce a third round of FFIS grants this autumn depending on budget constraints. This scheme aims to help make rural businesses more profitable and competitive whilst reducing the impact of farming on the environment, and has previously involved capital grants for various items.

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