A farmer has blasted Natural England for its ‘nonsensical’ management of the Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme.
Lynsey Tattersall of Withnell, Chorley, was supposed to have had her 2017 agreement in place by the end of last year but after five months of chasing up on progress was told six pieces of evidence were missing.
After asking if they could be submitted this month, she was dismayed to be told the deadline had passed and certain items on the application would be removed.
She accused Natural England of unfairly treating CS applicants by expecting them to meet deadlines when it does not respect its own.
“It was the first time we had done it,” Mrs Tattersall said.
“We looked into it, went to the meetings, applied for it and then went to more meetings to check our application.
“We were supposed to hear back by the end of the year, but on April 11 I rang to chase it up. The lady said yes our application was on the list and because I had called she would go and bump it up on the priority list.
“Then last week I got a letter saying my application was still being processed. It listed about six items saying they would be removed because of insufficient evidence.”
Rather than being allowed to simply add the missing evidence to her application, Mrs Tattersall was told she would need to appeal the removal of the items or withdraw and resubmit the application in full under the 2018 window.
It comes as Defra announced farmers would have an extra month to apply for the 2018 CS scheme following its new deadline of June 15.
“It is nonsensical,” she said. “I sent my appeal email off last week. This is not just a one-off.
“I was so mad I wrote a letter to Michael Gove and sent a copy to our local MP Lindsay Hoyle. The incompetence of them astounded me.
“To just quote the deadline to me after all their deadlines have passed by with no consequences, but we just have to suck it up. It is give and take surely?”
Natural England said farmers and land managers awaiting their CS agreement would ‘be notified soon’ as to whether or not their application was successful. Successful candidates will need to accept their agreements and send in a claim by June 15.
It said people are asked to undertake work they have agreed to after they have received their agreement and accepted it.
A spokesman added: “Farmers will find the wildlife offers introduced for the 2018 application window are easier to apply for and therefore will be simpler for Natural England to process and deliver.
“We are working hard to make advance payments for 2017, adding staff resource and improving processes as far as we can to process payments as quickly as possible.”