ENGLAND'S Countryside Stewardship Scheme has been opened for this year, with a number of 'significant changes' under its bonnet.

Speaking from H and H Land and Estates, the head of conservation and environment, David Morley, reckoned that the changes would make the scheme more attractive to most farmers.

"The number of standalone capital grants available has been considerably widened, and the maximum grant that can be applied for has been increased to £20,000 in each of the three strands," noted Mr Morley

The scheme's 'Hedgerows and Boundaries' grant offers a two-year capital works agreements for hedgerow and dry-stone wall restoration, paid at 'standard rates – including £25 per metre for wall restoration, and £9.40 per metre for hedge laying. In addition, for the first time, it is now possible to apply for new hedge planting, which is paid at £11.60 per metre.

Under its 'Water Capital Grants', available in much of Cumbria and various other catchments across the north of England, there are two-year grants contributing towards capital projects that offer water quality benefits, such as re-concreting broken yards, at £27.14 per square metre, or covering over silage pits or middens, at £62 per m2.

"The increase in maximum grant makes it much more feasible to roof many silage pits, which are simply too large to have been done within the previous £10k limit," said Mr Morley. "Most water capital grant items must be endorsed by the local Natural England Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer.

"Under this strand, it is now also possible to apply for new fencing to protect watercourses. This pays £4.90 a metre and CSFO endorsement is not needed," he added.

The Air Quality Grant category is new for 2021, offering three capital items -

  • Automatic slurry scrapers, paid at £2,760 per channel or passageway;
  • Low emission flooring for livestock buildings, paid at £72 per m2;
  • Planting trees to create a shelter belt to intercept ammonia emissions.

"Therefore, it is now possible to apply for £60,000 worth of grant funding, without entering into a multi-annual agreement," said Mr Morley. "For all the Capital Grants, the application window is open until April 30, 2021. For Water Capital Grants, this is considerably earlier than previous years, when the deadline was the end of July. Where CSFO endorsement is needed, all the necessary evidence must be provided to them by March 19. Farmers already in a Higher Level Environmental Stewardship agreement can also apply for any of the standalone capital grants, provided they are compatible with their existing agreement."