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Mid-tier applications proving 'complicated' FARMING.

Byline: ROBERT GIBSON robert.gibson@ncjmedia.co.uk

FARMERS submitting mid-tier applications for the new Countryside Stewardship scheme must pay close attention to both environmental merit and the needs of the farm's location, a North East expert has advised.

The initiative represents an amalgamation of the old Environmental Stewardship, English Woodland Grant Scheme and Catchment Sensitive Farming, with Natural England seeking proposals until September 30. Claire Bainbridge, a rural chartered surveyor at George F White, said its introduction had been a "rather slow affair", adding that even at this late stage, some information was lacking, making it difficult to advise on the matter.

However, there were some fundamentals to keep in mind, including the need to be registered with the Rural Payments Agency and the fact that, unlike Environmental Stewardship, the scheme is competitive. "Therefore if your application doesn't give enough environmental merit it may not be successful," Ms Bainbridge said. "ES was a whole farm scheme and for each hectare, you received a flat payment. Mid-Tier is a parcel based scheme and any options applied have a set payment rate. Applicants must make sure that any previous Environmental Stewardship Agreement will expire before 2016, prior to submitting an application. Anyone wishing to apply for any element of the scheme needs to be aware that there is a one application per year rule, so if you're applying for a Capital Grant and Mid-Tier, you would need to apply at the same time."

The scheme has also been designed to ensure applications suit the environmental needs of the location. Those that do not match set priorities are unlikely to score highly enough to be successful. Ms Bainbridge, however, warned that those wishing to see at a glance what they can do on their holding, and how much they will be paid for it, will not find the process straightforward.

"It is impossible to say what options are a priority and available, and see how much a scheme will pay at a glance, as every application will be different and the money available is dependent on the options chosen and a successful application," she said. "A successful application will have chosen options that suit the farm and match the Priority Statement for the local area. The country has been split into different targeting areas, with detailed priority maps for each."

The North East, for example, has 15 different priority maps. Applicants must download those that relate to their area and then apply the various layers to see whether different priorities are consider high, medium or low for the farm.

"If options are high priority for your area, they score higher, with further weighting given to your score by having options endorsed by a Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer, or by being in a 'hotspot' or entering into the Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package," Ms Bainbridge added.

"This score is then assessed on whether it gives value for money and the total cost of the agreement.

"If you are in the uplands, especially with moorland, applicants need to be aware that there are no specific moorland options, so careful consideration is required when choosing options to ensure success and replace much needed ELS and UELS monies.

"The final score is then ranked against other applications. The greater the score, the better chance of success."

CAPTION(S):

Claire Bainbridge, Rural Practice <BSurveyor at George F White
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 27, 2015
Words:562
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