A welcome boost to so-called “green farming” grants has caused a temporary hiccup forcing Natural England to suspend further funding under the Higher Level Stewardship scheme (HLS).
In last week’s comprehensive spending review, Defra announced a substantial 83% increase in HLS funding, which is designed to compensate farmers for environmental improvements to protest landscape, wildlife and historic sites on their land.
But this has caused Natural England to call a temporary halt to the granting of new awards until the future budget implications can be worked out.
Natural England has issued a statement saying it wishes to “put the record straight” explaining:
“Because of the high level of new HLS agreements already approved so far this year we have now temporarily suspended further approvals while we assess with Defra the effects of the new post-SR budget profile. This is necessary because new commitments made this year impact on the budgets for subsequent years.”
Awards already agreed will go ahead and lower level grants will be processed as usual. The statement adds: “It is important to stress that HLS remains open for business and farmers are encouraged to continue applying.”
Stewardship grants are vital in hill farming areas like the Yorkshire Dales where difficult terrain and uncertain climate means that, without such subsidies, most hill farms would go bankrupt. But many of the UK uplands lie in national parks and the new Coalition has pledged to become the “greenest Government yet.”