By Isabel Davies

Farmers Weekly

The number of agri-environment agreements in place in England is expected to fall by 40% by 2020, following the introduction of the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

Geoff Sansome, deputy director for biodiversity delivery at Natural England, said he expected the number of agreements to fall from a peak of 50,000 to 30,000 over the next five years.

Speaking during a session on green schemes at the NFU conference, Mr Sansome said the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme was ‘tried and tested’ in terms of the name, but it had a new set of aims.

See also: Concerns over scant details for Countryside Stewardship Scheme

The Higher Tier of the scheme would operate much like the Higher Level Scheme, in that farmers would be invited to join. Most of these are likely to be existing HLS farmers, as 90% of existing agreement holders are likely to be invited back, he said.

“What have you got to lose from putting in an application? If you don’t and someone next door does, they might put in a substandard application to the one you would have done.” Mike Rowe, deputy director of sustainable land and soils at Defra

Like the Entry Level scheme, the Mid Tier of Countryside Stewardship would be open to anyone to apply, he added.

However, there would be a competitive application process and individual agreements would really have to deliver.

Mr Sansome said to help work out which were the best applications, the whole of England had been mapped in terms of species, land character and numbers of farmland birds.

It was the equivalent to ‘yield mapping the environmental potential of the country’, he said. Farmers would be prompted when putting together their application to pick options that scored highly in those areas. “Working together we will be precision-farming the environment.”

Mike Rowe, deputy director of sustainable land and soils at Defra, said the scheme would be open to everyone, although not everyone who applied would get an agreement.

But he urged anyone in an existing scheme to apply, even though there was not enough budget available to roll all existing ELS agreements forward.

“What have you got to lose from putting in an application? If you don’t and someone next door does, they might put in a substandard application to the one you would have done.”

Mr Rowe also stressed that the scoring system for the scheme would be fully transparent.

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