If you are one of the many farmers with a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement from Natural England that is due to expire, it's likely that you will have recently received a letter inviting you to extend your contract for another year.
While this is a positive and sensible move by the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Natural England, especially while uncertainties around Brexit still unfold, it is only one option for you to consider. An 'agreement extension' may not necessarily be the best move for every farm business, or even for the wider natural environment for that matter.
What can you do instead?
As an alternative to the option above, it is worth considering the possibility of switching to a new scheme altogether. Doing so has a number of advantages; it can be more financially beneficial, it can help you offer greater support for wildlife and, importantly, it will give you the opportunity to adjust your existing conservation scheme so that it is more workable alongside the wider farm business. As we all know, a lot can change over 10 years! If you opt for a one year HLS extension, you will not be able to change your existing agreement in any way, and you will not be able to apply for Capital Works.
The new Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier and Higher Tier schemes are comprised of agreements that last for five years; each of which offer a range of new and better-paid options compared to the older schemes. Examples include but are by no means limited to:
- £511/ha for pollen and nectar (previously £450/ha in HLS)
- £640/ha for wild bird seed mix (previously £475/ha in HLS)
- £632/t for supplementary feeding.
Whether you opt for Countryside Stewardship or for a HLS rollover, options that you might have used to count towards your Ecological Focus Area (EFA) requirement such as wildflower margins, nectar mixes and wild bird seed mixes can no longer be used for that purpose.
However, Countryside Stewardship does contain options previously not available and which can bring significant returns to your farm business. These include:
- Legume and herb-rich swards (option GS4 - £309/ha) – excellent forage for livestock, brilliant pollinator habitat but also a rich break crop that offers paid assistance for black-grass control. Our Herb Rich Sward Mix meets the criteria for this option.
- Two-year legume fallow (option AB15 – £522/ha) – cannot be grazed or harvested but it is the best paid break crop available. Learn more about our Two-year Ryegrass Legume Mix designed to meet the criteria within Countryside Stewardship.
- Autumn sown bumblebird mix (option AB16 - £550/ha) – autumn sown mix ideal for heavy clay soils. You can discover more about our suitable mix here.
It is important that, with the inevitable 'choppy waters' ahead, all options should be considered to ensure you get the best for your farm business.
For quality advice on your stewardship options going forward, or if you are considering whether or not to sign up for a HLS extension, please contact your Kings advisor who will be more than happy to help you plan the best way forward.