Environmental Stewardship

Double Funding and Environmental Stewardship Agreements in England

DEFRA has announced that farmers can use any appropriate management options currently under an existing Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) Agreement to meet the new Ecological Focus Area (EFA) requirements provided they meet both the relevant EFA requirements and the ELS/OELS option requirements.

However, ELS and OELS agreements which started on 1st January 2012 or later could incur a payment reduction where they include double funded options, for example but not exclusive; buffer strips, wild bird seed mixture, nectar flower mixture and field corner management options. Natural England is in the process of writing to all affected agreement holders explaining the effects to their payment and offering three options;

1)      Accept the reduced payment. You will need to continue to manage all your existing options and your points will not change however your payment will be reduced from 1st January 2015. Any surplus points in your agreement will be taken into account to mitigate the payment reduction.

2)      Amend the agreement to include options which contribute towards the 30 points per ha threshold and avoid any reduction in payment. You can amend your agreement, for example by adding options, to bring your points back to the previous level. You must ensure that your points threshold is met as falling below the threshold means that you are no longer eligible for future payments. The amendment will take place from 1st January 2015.

3)      Exit the scheme early with no penalty. Your agreement will end at midnight on 31st December 2014 and you will be paid pro-rata for what you have delivered up to that date.

Agreement holders affected by this have until 15th November 2015 to respond otherwise Natural England will assume you are content to accept the reduced payment, option one above.

If you wish to amend your agreement you must respond by the 15th November 2014 but you have until 20th December 2014 to notify Natural England of the changes by submitting Annex 3 of the reply letter.

If you require any advice in connection with this please contact your local Laurence Gould office or James Letchford on jamesl@laurencegould.com or 07787 435273.