The Farmers Guardian on Friday reported a Natural England statement that HLS was still open for business. New agreements will not go live until next April though.
There were some interesting statistics quoted – interesting that is, if you are interested in the finer points of agri-environment schemes, which I am.
This year’s £57m HLS budget has been substantially reduced – the article doesn’t say by how much. I think I remember the figure being £7m.
Next year HLS spending will increase to £84m.
By 2015 it will be £154m, hence the 83% increase quoted by Defra.
While there are about 6000 HLS agreement to date, over the next 4 years 6,500 Environmentally Sensitive Area, and 10,000 Countryside Stewardship agreements will come to the end of their natural lives. The conversion rate of these “classic” schemes to HLS so far has been about 30%, while the remainder go into Entry Level Scheme, or nothing. So there will be about 5000 classic scheme conversions to HLS. That should soak up most the “extra” money.
For grasslands, perhaps NE should be much more picky about which classic scheme participants get access to HLS funding in future. The small-scale assessment that has been done has shown that, nationally, the success rate of grassland creation in classic schemes has been very poor: less than 10% have produced good wildlife-rich grasslands. And at the moment, advisors don’t even properly assess the success of the grassland restoration/creation projects that were funded through classic schemes before converting them to HLS – so they could be giving very generous HLS funding to continue schemes that may well have not worked.
Equally, classic schemes which have successfully protected important wildlife-rich grasslands, or have created good new ones, are unfairly excluded from entry in HLS because their farms are small, they don’t want to enter a Whole Farm agreement, or their applications don’t tick enough HLS boxes. Wildlife-rich grasslands, especially lowland meadows, are often now found in small fragments scattered across the countryside, so the way HLS currently operates, predicates against Classic scheme holders from getting into HLS if they have small but important grasslands on their farms.
That’s not really a good use of taxpayer’s money in these austerity times.