Stewardship Schemes – Are you complying fully with your agreement?

Cross Compliance inspections ended on 31st December 2023. Farms could now be visited to check Stewardship schemes are meeting the environmental outcomes. Farmers and land managers must still comply with Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ’s) and Cross Compliance rules as many are within existing legislation. The window has opened to submit annual Countryside Stewardship (Higher-Tier, Mid-Tier & Wildlife Offers) revenue claim declarations and Environmental Stewardship revenue claim declarations, and now is a timely reminder to review agreement documents and management prescriptions for all options across the farm. Many farmers may have recently accepted a Sustainable Farming Incentive agreement and are unfamiliar with how these schemes work, but you must meet all the actions aims, requirements and collate records.

As well as ensuring locations of options are recorded in parcels and they are physically in place as per the specifications it’s the small details that are often overlooked. Within all agreements there are various records required to meet option requirements and specifications. It is imperative these are checked to ensure you are complying throughout the duration of the agreement. Many records will be in place however I invariably see many farmers and land managers unaware of their responsibilities often only realising what is required when the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) request an evidence check.

Usually towards the end of the year the RPA complete a 5% desk-based evidence request. Alternatively, they could visit at any time. Whichever way the evidence is requested agreement holders for example with option Low input grassland (GS2) must ensure they have the following in place:

  • A standard soil analysis carried out in the last 5 years, including analysis of organic matter by loss on ignition. The rules for farmers and land managers to prevent water pollution already require farmers and land managers to carry out soil testing on cultivated agricultural land and such test results may be used to meet the record-keeping requirements for this option.
  • Any sites grazed will require a grazing activity record.
  • Permanent grassland eligibility assessment form
  • Receipted invoices, consents or permissions connected with the work.
  • Field operations at the parcel level, including associated invoices.
  • Photographs of the management undertaken

It is worth noting that soil sampling, testing for soil organic matter (SAM1) is available in the new Sustainable Farming Incentive Scheme paying £6/ha which could help towards you meeting the Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier scheme requirements as outlined above. To ensure records are gathered and prepared well in advance of any evidence requests or visits the specialist team at Stephenson Rural can assist you with all aspects of scheme management. If you would like to discuss any aspect of record keeping or further advice including applications for the Sustainable Farming Incentive, please contact Chris Muir at Stephenson Rural.

01904 489731

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