The eighth round of the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund has opened for applications today, the government has announced (23 October 2023).
The £2.5 million fund encourages collaboration between groups of farmers, foresters and other land managers to improve local environmental outcomes such as enhancing wildflower and grassland or protecting meadows and woodlands.
The announcement means that farming groups and landowners will be able to bid for a share of £2.5 million of funding which will be made available over the next three years. Each group can apply for up to £50,000 to deliver improvements, with the fund designed so that projects can be tailored to the character of the local area, increasing the environmental benefits they provide.
Since it was established in 2015, the fund has seen around 6,000 farmers and land managers come together in 224 groups across the country to develop their knowledge and skills to improve nature restoration in their local areas.
It plays a key role in the wider aims of the Countryside Stewardship scheme to protect and enhance the natural environment, including through actions to increase biodiversity, improve water and air quality, expand woodland areas and improve natural flood management.
Both new and existing groups will be able to apply for a share of the funds by completing an online application form on the gov.uk website. Applications will be open for 12 weeks until 15 January 2024.
Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “Farmers across the country are keeping the nation fed while delivering fantastic outcomes for the environment, and we continue to support them to do this through our environmental land management schemes.
“Coordinating action and working together has been shown to achieve greater environmental benefits than individual actions alone, and this is why I’m delighted to announce a further £2.5 million under our popular Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund to bring more farmers and landowners together to protect some of our most important habitats, from meadows to woodlands”.
Projects from previous rounds of the scheme include the South Pennine Facilitation Fund, the River Ribble Group, the 1066 Farmers Groups and the Herefordshire Meadows Group.
The 1066 Farmers group is located in nationally important areas such as the South Downs National Park and High Weald AONB and has used the fund to bring together multiple farmers and land manages to improve sustainability across 36,000 hectares of farmland through enhancing wildflower and grassland, improving grazing practices and farmland bird identification training. The project has also helped land managers to protect and grow their income and assets.
The Herefordshire Meadows Group has used the fund to restore 237 hectares of flower-rich grassland by promoting sustainable land management systems. The group has grown into a longer-term initiative with 62 members and over 500 grassland managers and is building a network of local people with skills in plant identification, management advice and contracting services for grassland management.
Herefordshire Meadows Coordinator and Meadows Adviser Caroline Hanks said: “Over the years, the CSFF has supported our efforts to restore over 1200 hectares of flower-rich grassland in Herefordshire, with a further 237 hectares secured by the group, now a Charitable Incorporated Organisation set up for the long term’.
“This has all been made possible through collaboration, and it is this ethos which continues to enable our members to run resilient farm businesses with increasingly healthy soils, delivering important benefits to the environment.”
Natural England Chief Executive Marian Spain said: “Countryside Stewardship and the farmers and land managers who take up the scheme are vital to restoring nature and increasing our resilience to climate change. By bringing groups of land managers together in pursuit of positive environmental management, the Facilitation Fund strengthens partnerships and supports more ambitious and longer term delivery on the ground.
“Natural England looks forward to supporting further groups of farmers to create, restore and nurture networks of wildlife-rich habitats that support our threatened biodiversity, provide clean water and air and underpin sustainable food production.”
Rural Payments Agency Chief Executive Paul Caldwell added: “This latest announcement ensures that both new and existing groups will once again benefit from government funding to deliver long-term improvements to their local area.”
“By working together and sharing their expertise, farmers can amplify the benefits already provided by the Countryside Stewardship schemes to deliver meaningful large-scale environmental change.
The Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund is part of the government’s Countryside Stewardship scheme, one of the government’s environmental land management schemes which seek to boost food production while protecting the environment. In the last three years, there has been a 94% increase in the number of Countryside Stewardship agreements, and more than 6,500 applications were submitted in the most recent round of the Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier scheme.