The Scottish Government has announced that the 2023 Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) application round will open for applications on 30 January 2023.
The scheme, which was first introduced in 2015, offers annual payments for a wide range of environmental management options. For example, arable farmers can apply for payments for establishing grass strips and beetle banks, or overwintering stubbles. In grassland settings, farmers can receive support for delaying mowing and grazing – or leaving areas uncut – to support different bird species.
For the 2023 scheme year, some agri-environment options which have previously been available, such as payments to improve public access, pond creation and bracken treatment, have been dropped. Funding for new hedgerows under the Creation of Hedgerows option will be limited to 500 metres per application.
The government has also announced changes to the scheme which it hopes will encourage greater uptake of organic farming and allocated additional cash to support farmers needing to upgrade their slurry storage facilities.
The Scottish Government has set itself the target of doubling the amount of land under organic management by 2026.
The amount of land that can be entered into organic conversion and maintenance will therefore no longer be capped.
Existing agreement holders with land in excess of the caps (on their Schedule of Works in their contract) will also have the caps lifted from the 2024 management year.
Funding will also be available to pay for improvements to slurry storage facilities.
The slurry storage option will be available across Scotland, other than in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs).
Businesses that currently house livestock on slurry-based systems with less than six months storage capacity will be eligible to apply.
The application deadlines differ according to which part of the scheme you want to apply for. The application windows are as follows:
- Slurry stores: 30 January 2023 – 24 March 2023
- Organic conversion and maintenance: 30 January 2023 – 7 June 2023
- Agri-environment: 30 January 2023 – 7 June 2023
The extension of the closing date into June is very good news and much more practical than in 2022, where the application window closed in late April so clashed with lambing, calving, agronomy work and the completion of Single Application Forms.
There were a lot of rejections for the 2022 round, mainly due to the large number of applicants (there was a backlog after two years of funding rounds with limited eligibility) so some of these may have a better chance with the 2023 round. However, the loss of some of the major capital options associated with moorland management is disappointing and may well deter moorland applications. These are the fragile habitats where many of our wading birds are found, so this is a frustrating choice for cutbacks.