£2.5m on offer in latest round of Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund

THE eighth round of the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund has opened for applications.

The £2.5m 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 £2.5m 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 £2.5m 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.”

The Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund is funded by Defra and delivered by Rural Payments Agency (RPA), with technical advice and monitoring and evaluation provided by Natural England.

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