Farmers looking to apply for Water Capital Grants under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) need to contact their local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer (CSFO) before the end of May, if they have not already done so.
Valuable capital grants are on offer which will allow farms and estates in England to invest in works designed to improve water quality by reducing the amount of diffuse pollution entering watercourses and aquifers.
The grants are available either as a standalone two-year option under the Countryside
Stewardship Scheme (CSS), or as part of a wider five-year Mid-Tier CSS agreement, alongside other land management options.
Grants are available for work such as concrete yard renewal, the installation of rainwater harvesting equipment, alternative drinking sources for livestock away from watercourses and ponds, lined bio-beds and the roofing of silage camps, collecting yards, muck heaps, slurry and silage stores.
Under the standalone two-year scheme, grants of up to a maximum of £10,000 are available. The amount of grant available is unlimited if water capital items are included as part of a wider five-year CSS application, which includes other land management options.
However, farmers must be in a High Water Quality Priority Area to qualify for the two-year scheme and for certain options within the five-year scheme. Proposals will also need the support of their local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer.
The rules of the scheme state that farmers considering applying for water capital grants must contact their local CSFO by 31 May to arrange a visit to discuss their proposals.
While all visits are currently suspended due to Covid-19 restrictions, Natural England has said it will offer advice and support to farmers seeking to make an application by remote or digital means.
If farmers are intending to apply for water capital grants and did not have a visit prior to the current lockdown, our advice is to start a dialogue with your local CSFO as soon as possible.
It is not yet clear whether CSFOs will be able to make a visit ahead of the final deadline for applications, but if not, then this part of the process may need to be done remotely.
Farmers may therefore find it beneficial to pull together the information the CSFO is likely to need, such as photographs, video footage and a map of the site which shows where watercourses and drain outflows are located, and where the options that will be on the application will be positioned.
It will be important that applicants are able to show that their proposals offer value for money in terms of reducing pollution risk, with competition for CSS funding likely to be greater than for a number of years.
Farmers should be able to explain clearly the pollution risks associated with their current set-up and how capital grants will help to reduce this in future.
Overall, the scheme is a win-win situation, with the grants offering farmers the opportunity to obtain support to enhance water quality and the environment, at the same time as improving fixed equipment on their farms.
Many of our clients have benefited from these grants over previous years, some of them making successful applications over consecutive years. This has enabled them to make substantial improvements at a time when it might otherwise have been hard to find the money to cover the full costs of this sort of work.
The 31 May is the last date to request a CS Mid-Tier paper application pack by email or phone. Online application packs can be requested up to 30 June.
The final deadline for applications is 31 July.