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Countryside Stewardship branded a ‘shambles’ as Defra forced to issue bridging payments

Anyone with an agreement starting on January 1 2017, who has not been paid by June 21 would receive a 75 per cent bridging payment by the end of June.

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Countryside Stewardship branded a ‘shambles’ as Defra forced to issue bridging payments

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has been forced to issue bridging payments to farmers with a Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreement after industry leaders slammed the ‘shambolic’ administration of the scheme.

 

Anyone with an agreement starting on January 1, 2017, who had not been paid by June 21 would receive a 75 per cent bridging payment by the end of June.

 

The latest promise was given after the CLA, NFU and Tenant Farmers Association joined forces to complain years of valuable conservation work was being put at risk because the current CS arrangements were ‘simply not fit for purpose’.


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In a joint letter to Defra Secretary Michael Gove, they said: “We write to express our grave concerns over the shambolic administration of Countryside Stewardship, putting at risk years of valuable conservation work, with many farmers reaching the end of agri-environment schemes unable to start new agreements.

 

“The backlog of farmers awaiting payments for environmental work, some up to nine months, is also unacceptable and must be sorted quickly.”

 

The organisations claimed many farmers were planning to drop out of CS when their agreements ended as they did not see the scheme as a ‘realistic option’.

 

Concerns

Though the NFU welcomed Defra’s announcement on bridging payments, deputy president Guy Smith said it was ‘not acceptable’ for farmers in other agri-environment schemes such as Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) to be excluded.


The latest plea from farming groups for CS to be fixed followed a stormy NFU council meeting in Stoneleigh where concerns were expressed about upland farmers on marginal incomes who were struggling because of the ‘horrendous’ scheme.

Newly-elected NFU uplands chairman Thomas Binns said there was ‘no reason’ why Defra should not be pursuing a rollover option for those farmers whose ELS and HLS schemes were coming to an end.


He said: “We have seen our concerns have not been heard. The Secretary of State has been on watch now for 18 months or more.


“This lies firmly and squarely with him. He is head of the Defra family and whichever part of the Defra family is misbehaving or not delivering, he needs to take a grip and deliver results.”


A Defra spokesperson said the department had been ‘actively engaging’ with the NFU on bridging payments and HLS extensions, and would continue to keep them updated.

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