Evidence which shows Natural England is behind schedule to make Countryside Stewardship (CS) payments is mounting.
The CS manual states farmers should have advance payments for mid and high-tier schemes paid by the end of December, and Natural England representatives were repeating the same claim to the NFU as late as mid-November, but the website now says these payments will be made between November 2016 and January 2017.
Mr W J Weatherill, who farms in Taunton, contacted Farmers Guardian to complain. He said: “I was promised to be paid in late autumn, but Natural England are now saying I will not be paid until the end of January. I applied way before the closing date in the spring and now there is no explanation for why the payment is coming later.
“I am sure I will not be the only one waiting. Natural England is worse than the RPA.”
The NFU has received similar calls and Countryside Stewardship adviser Claire Robinson said she was ‘concerned’ there could be a problem as Natural England have ‘changed the messaging’.
“Farmers worked with Natural England to get an agreement in what was a very difficult year”, she added.
“A lot of them have been very flexible to get an agreement and have incurred costs to meet the requirements, so I can understand the frustration. These guys have been very patient; they need to know when they will get their money.”
It is possible the delays are down to problems with the payment system, which is the same as the one used to deliver BPS.
IT issues are ongoing, but concerns have also been raised about whether the proper resource is in place to deliver payments for agri-environment schemes in light of the pressure on the RPA to meet its target to pay 90 per cent of BPS claims by the end of December.
A Natural England spokesperson refused to comment on any possible problems, saying only: “The first advance CS payments started in November and will be appearing in customer accounts very shortly. Natural England is aiming to pay customers by the end of January 2017.”