Bridge that gap: Stewardship grants for hedges & stone walls
As the Countryside Stewardship scheme gets going in England, new opportunities are now available for farmers to get grant funding to restore their hedges and repair stone walls. The new Hedgerow and Boundaries scheme opened on 1 February and closes on 30 April, offering grants of up to £5,000 with a total £5m available in 2016. It is competitive; all applications are scored, so there’s no guarantee everyone gets a grant.
A lesson from ELS was that hedge and wall management was important to farmers and they welcomed the idea of capital grants. Whilst the Mid-Tier and Higher-Tier of Countryside Stewardship are already available as replacements for ELS and HLS, they are not for everyone. The Hedgerows & Boundaries capital-only grant offer is aimed at this group of farmers.
If you are interested what are the rules? On eligibility, a key one is that you can only apply if your SBI (Single Business Identification Reference) does not have a multi-annual agreement, like ELS, EWGS or CS in place on July 1st 2016. Tenants can apply, but you must have 2 years control of the land and hedges/walls must be maintained for 5 years. So the landlord will also need to sign if you have a shorter tenancy.
There are 12 hedge/wall capital items available, with payments of up to £9.50 per metre for hedgerow improvements and from £3.60 to £86 per metre for works to restore stone walls and stone-faced banks. The scheme also offers £8.80 per hedgerow tree planted. If you are already thinking about applying for the Mid-Tier, you can apply for this capital grant and still apply for a Mid-tier agreement starting January 2017, as long as it doesn`t include the same Hedgerow and Boundary options.
The process is simple: one form, you supply your own marked up maps and once approved you have up to 2 years to deliver the works. All the forms and guidance you should need are available online at www.gov.uk/countrysidestewardship.
Restoring field boundaries can really benefit the environment. Continuous, thick hedgerows provide shelter and habitat for wildlife; stone boundaries are key features of upland landscapes and well sited boundaries can make a real difference in controlling run-off. In Natural England we are really hopeful that farmers will take this opportunity and I am pleased to report significant interest so far. If you are interested, you can download the application form from the website www.gov.uk/countrysidestewardship or call the NE helpline on 0300 060 3900 .
Grant offers should be made from July 1st and you can claim the payments as soon as you have completed the work.
For resources that outline some of the many benefits of maintaining hedgerows and boundaries and provide some practical guidance see:
- Natural England’s ‘Illustrated guide to hedgerow network restoration.’
- The Woodland Trust publication ‘Hedgerows & Hedgerow Trees.’
- Outputs from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology research on hedge cutting frequency and biodiversity: ‘Increasing the value of hedges for wildlife with relaxed cutting regimes’ and ‘Rejuvenation of hedgerows.’
- The Campaign for the Farmed Environment guide ‘Managing hedges to benefit pollinators.’
Hedgelink have lots of useful resources, some of which will soon be published on Agricology.
Also to come is a blog from Jo Smith and Sally Westaway of the Organic Research Centre, which will be focusing on sustainable management of hedges for woodfuel.