ANNE-MARIE TREVELYAN: Helping deliver environmental benefits for managed land

I am reluctant to provide another update on our vaccination programme in this column, not least because it will be out of date by the time this goes to print.

Thursday, 18th February 2021, 12:00 am
Farmers can apply for funding to improve their local environment – from restoring wildlife habitats and creating woodlands to managing flood risk.

You can keep in touch with those updates and everything else I am doing in Westminster and locally via my weekly update email. I do want to say a huge thank you to everyone involved in the vaccination programme: the scientists, trial volunteers, everyone involved in vaccine supply and delivery, our GP hub teams, healthcare support staff, district nurses and the many volunteers who are working so hard. Your efforts are very much appreciated.

Last week, applications opened for the new Countryside Stewardship programme. The scheme is designed to help farmers and land managers protect and improve the natural environment. Farmers can apply for funding to improve their local environment – from restoring wildlife habitats and creating woodlands to managing flood risk.

I know local farmers have previously found this tricky to navigate. My colleagues and I have fed in those concerns, and I am pleased to say Defra has been working closely with the industry to widen the options available and make it easier to apply.

Eventually the scheme will be replaced with the new Environmental Land Management scheme and by entering an agreement now, farmers will be best-placed to benefit from the new agricultural policy once it is fully rolled out in 2024.

Improvements that are especially relevant to Northumberland farmers are new wood pasture options in the uplands at payment rates suitable for upland application; improved woodland options, including bringing bracken control and stone wall options into woodland management and combining Woodland Creation and Woodland Maintenance grants; expanded eligibility criteria for the upland option UP2 (management of rough grazing for birds), enabling more land managers to access this option and further improve the upland offer and Increased number of capital items that farmers can apply for using the Rural Payments service, covering water capital, hedgerows and boundaries and air quality.

This improved Countryside Stewardship scheme is an excellent opportunity to receive financial support to deliver environmental benefits for managed land. I am assured it is much easier to apply online and Defra is guaranteeing that everyone entering a new Countryside Stewardship agreement will be able to leave it early in order to join the new scheme rolling out in 2024, so there is no reason not to go ahead and apply.