The application deadline for Mid-Tier applications has been extended from 31st July to 31st August. There had been increasing pressure on Natural England to extend the application window due to their inability to send out application packs.
Mid-tier and Natural England issues continue
It is understood that the current round of stewardship issues has been caused by computer systems failures and the mapping updates conducted by the RPA last year. This had led to agreements applied for last year only just being sent the agreement documents before the 15th June deadline to complete the annual claim form, even though the agreement start date would have been 1st January 2018. This also has a practical issue of reducing the time that capital items need to be completed and claimed by 6 months.
The Mid-tier window to apply for application packs for this year opened in February, however with a considerable number of application packs still not received this is likely to result in further delays for these agreements. The process for checking applications appears to be a more streamlined application process with Hub Natural England offices dealing with all applications. How this works in practice remains to be seen.
Payments have, in the most part, not been received or been erratic in timing with almost all agreement holders experiencing some levels of delayed payments. Many people who entered the scheme on 01/01/17 have still not received any payment, for larger scale agreements this makes budgeting and cashflow management impossible.
The failings of Natural England in getting the basic processing right with these schemes is putting farmers and land owners off entering, which is a shame as it appears to be undoing the years of good work previous stewardship schemes have delivered. The Mid-Tier Stewardship scheme has some good paying and useful options and if set up well could provide a reasonable return, especially if arable options are located in low yielding fields or used to help with the management of blackgrass. The current trend for Government support post Brexit appears to be focused on the environment and greening, how this works in practice remains to be seen.
For further advice or information on environmental stewardship, contact your local FCG office or Natasha at firstname.lastname@example.org