Deadline extended as Defra blames technical issues
Farmers have until the middle of this month to apply for 2024 Countryside Stewardship mid -tier agreements after the government extended the deadline.
The deadline was extended until Friday 15 September following glitches with the system. Defra says those technical issues have now been resolved and itwants to give people more time to submit applications.
Countryside Stewardship plays a significant role in the government’s efforts to make food production more resilient while contributing towards the UK’s environmental targets, such as biodiversity and water quality.
By extending the application window, Defra says more farmers can apply and be paid for environmental work alongside sustainable food production – ranging from restoring wildlife habitats and managing woodlands to mitigating flood risks.
The scheme has steadily evolved following farmer feedback. Some 32,000 agreements are already successfully in place across England for 2023. This represents a 94% increase in uptake since 2020 – including nearly 26,000 mid-tier agreements.
Defra says technical issues were experienced by a small number of peoplewhen submitting applications. It says these issues have now been resolved and additional investment has been made to increase capacity.
Defra secretary Thérèse Coffey said she wanted to ensure everyone could apply for the scheme if they wanted to. She added: “It is important that we listen to farmers who are key custodians of the countryside.
“Having met many farmers across the country this summer, and recognising the poor weather has made harvesting much more challenging, I think it right we extend the application window for Countryside Stewardship.”
The Rural Payment Agency says it has been working closely with affected applicants and agents to support applications, with actions taken to resolve issues as quickly as possible. It says systems are in place to assist farmers through the process.
RPA chief executive Paul Caldwell said further improvements to the online system were already in progress –including greater flexibility over when farmers can apply and how they manage their agreements.
Mr Caldwell said: “We’ve already had 3,900 applications successfully submitted. With this extension, we can make sure that others who have not fully submitted their application, or those who haven’t yet applied, have the time they need to do so.
“I would encourage anyone who has not yet fully submitted an application to do so. Should anyone have any difficulties with amending their land details then we have guidance available on this and applicants can contact us if they encounter any issues.”