New details on the new environmental land management scheme for farmers still leave unanswered questions on how the scheme will work in practice, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said.
It is now known that the new scheme will be known as ‘Countryside Stewardship’, and it will see around £900 million paid to farmers in return for improving the biodiversity of the countryside.
It will be delivered by Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Rural Payments Agency, and replaces the Environmental Stewardship and English Woodland Grant schemes, and capital grants from the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme.
Applications will open next July before agreements and payments begin in 2016.
Payments will also be used to improve water management, pollinator numbers and woodlands.
Following publication of the scheme this week, Guy Smith, the NFU’s vice president, said: “The budget availability is still unclear, decisions on how ‘double-funding’ in the new scheme have yet to be made, and how the ‘facilitation fund’ will work in practice is still unknown.”
Facilitation funding will go to farmers that bring at least four adjoining holdings together - over an area of more than 2,000 hectares - to work co-operatively.
Mr Smith said this was a tall order, adding: “It is vital, that if this even has a hope to succeed, that the facilitator of this part of the scheme is appointed by the farmers and can be their local, trusted adviser. It is also important here that there is no unintended discrimination against smaller farmers. Overall, there are still a number of questions about how the scheme will work.”