The Chancellor’s statement on Saturday, providing some reassurance around funding for research and the agricultural sector after Brexit, is certainly welcome.
The national FWAG Association, supported by FWAG SW, has jointly been lobbying with other NGO’s for further clarification on the future of Agri-Environment schemes. Has Phillip Hammond’s statement provided the clarification and reassurance sought on Agri-Environment schemes? Largely, yes, but there are still some details to be established.
Whilst Basic Payment Scheme payments seem to be honoured until 2020 and existing individual Agri-environment agreements also look to be secured for the lifetime of the agreement, the future of the current round of Countryside Stewardship applications is less clear.
Applications for Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier starting in January 2017 will need to be submitted by the end of September 2016 but our previous experience suggests that the agreements will not actually be signed off until early 2017. The Chancellor’s statement says that only existing Agri-Environment schemes, that are agreed prior to the Autumn Statement in November 2016, are covered by his pledge. So will this year’s application round for Countryside Stewardship be honoured, or not?
If a common sense approach is taken by the Treasury and Natural England, the 2016 applications for Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier (that meet the competitive element criteria) and Higher-Tier applications, may be accepted and honoured, even if they have not been formally signed off in time for the Autumn Statement. Therefore, we recommend to our members and clients to continue with any Countryside Stewardship applications currently being worked up, until we get further reassurance on this point.
Natural England are working on a formal statement on the issue of the 2016 Countryside Stewardship Applications and we will let our members know as soon as we have more information. We will also continue to lobby to establish what form Agri-Environment schemes will take beyond 2016.
Gary Rumbold – General Manager