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Countryside Stewardship and Brexit - Treasury announcement

View profile for Julie Robinson
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The Treasury announcement of 3 October is, on the face of it, good news for farmers, land managers and woodland owners. The Government will guarantee funding for agri-environment agreements entered into before we leave the EU but which continue after that date. In other words, if a 10-year Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship agreement is signed this autumn, to start on 1 January 2017, it will be funded for its full ten years.

Looking at the small print, farmers and land managers may prefer to take a more cautious approach.

Conditions for funding

The Treasury statement says that funding for schemes will be honoured by the Government if they are:-

  • good value for money; and
  • in line with domestic strategic priorities.

The second condition may lead to some debate, but should not bring schemes to a screeching stop. In a post-Brexit world, the current main priority for Countryside Stewardship - to protect and enhance the natural environment - will surely remain a strategic priority for the UK. School visits to farms, and paying farmers to put up rabbit fencing or install a livestock trough, may not.

The value for money condition may create more difficulties. Although the amounts paid per CS option are based on standard costs and income foregone, and although value for money is a key consideration in the design and implementation of Countryside Stewardship, views about what constitutes value for money may change once we are outside the EU and the legislation governing rural development no longer applies.

Rolling six-month break clause

In addition, the standard terms which govern all Countryside Stewardship agreements signed after 1 January 2016 allow Natural England to end the agreements, and payments, on six months’ written notice. That notice can be given at any time and without any reason having to be specified. The standard terms also allow for agreements to be varied.

The real question is whether the latest government guarantee overrides the rolling break clause. The clause is part and parcel of the ‘deal’ between an individual applicant and Natural England; the Treasury statement does not mean it no longer applies.

So, taken with the conditions point, there is some doubt about how cast-iron a guarantee of the continuance of individual agreements the Treasury’s latest statement provides.

Implications for farmers and land managers

Neither of the above caveats should stop farmers and land managers pressing ahead with Countryside Stewardship agreements. They should just be aware that there is some small print, and a clear policy statement from the Treasury, which mean that agreements may not run for the full term set out on their front page or with the options and payment rates originally envisaged.

If you have any questions at all about the issues raised in this blog, or about the impact of Brexit on your farm business generally, please do get in touch with Julie Robinson at julierobinson@roythornes.co.uk or on 01775 842618. 

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