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UK departure from EU casts shadow over Countryside Stewardship



The immediate fog of war over Brexit may have cleared in recent days but the lull has only served to expose some areas which need immediate attention.

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To date the UK Government has committed to support farmers at levels provided under the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020.

However many have raised concerns new Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements starting in 2017 would run until the end of 2021.

Despite a growing furore, Natural England, which administers the scheme, has so far not confirmed whether it will issue any further CS agreements, or indicated how they might be funded past 2020.

A statement on behalf of Natural England simply said: “We continue to engage with EU business as normal and Rural Development Programmes across the UK remain in place. An update on future funding under current EU schemes will follow shortly.”

‎Until a decision is reached, it appears no new stewardship grants will be approved.

And as far as the NFU is concerned, this is far from satisfactory.



Calling for a Government decision within weeks, NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “We understand why the referendum decision might give cause for Government to reflect on its stewardship plans as these agreements will still be operating beyond 2020 when we will almost certainly have left the EU.

“But time is of the essence. These new agri-environment schemes have already had a shaky start, with low farmer confidence in them. The current confusion is not helping this. Furthermore, it should be remembered thousands of farmers are coming out of the old ELS/HLS schemes this year. This has not stopped because of Brexit.”

David Morley, head of conservation and environment at H&H Land and Property, agreed it was important a decision was made soon as the September 30 deadline was fast-approaching.

He said: “If the outcome is no 2017 agreements will be issued, then the significant cost of making the application will have been wasted.

“On the other hand, if they put their applications on hold, they run the risk of missing the deadline if Government belatedly gives the green light.”

CLA director of policy and advice Christopher Price echoed the comments and called on Government to clear up the current uncertainty ‘quickly and decisively’.


Glastir scheme to be honoured

Welsh cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said the Welsh Government would seek to honour its commitment to those currently holding Glastir contracts.

Furthermore, the advice for those applying for a scheme was to continue as normal.

For schemes which have a relatively short timetable, such as the Glastir small grants programme, then Government was ‘more confident’ it could fund the commitments.

By contrast, where a project extended beyond 2018, Ministers would delay any decision-making until they were sure of future funding.

This clearly has an impact on Glastir 2017 applicants as these contracts would be running until the end of 2021 and, as such, Welsh Government has put all this work on pause.

Speaking at this week’s Royal Welsh Show, NFU Cymru president Stephen James said: “We have hundreds of farmers who had hoped to enter Glastir 2017 for the first time, many well on into agreeing a contract with the Welsh Government.

“We have many hundreds more who will be coming to the end of Glastir contracts in December, unaware what will happen next. Many of these will have committed to agri-environment schemes for more than 20 years.”

Case to delay use of Article 50

The environmental schemes in Scotland may have different names but the problems faced by farmers and landowners are similar to those experienced by their counterparts in England and Wales.

The Agri-Environment and Climate Scheme has elements with five-year commitments.

Anne Gray, senior policy officer with Scottish Land and Estates, said the future of the Scottish Rural Development Programme was unclear and the organisation had written to Scottish Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing for funding assurances.

She said: “I know there are a plethora of other interests to consider but it would be helpful to land managers if Article 50 was not triggered until January 1, 2018.



“This would not only give us a further two years to work up replacement schemes, but it would also take the UK’s membership of the EU to 2020, which would coincide with the end of the current schemes.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said the First Minister was intent on maintaining Scotland’s relationship with the EU and, in the short-term, EU-funded investment in Scotland would continue to function as normal.

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