Readers will be aware that Environmental Stewardship is in a transitional stage pending the start of the next Rural Development Programme in 2015 and following the end of the previous programme on 31 December. Some will have been concerned by the uncertainty arising from an Information Note published by Natural England on 7 November 2013. This stated that it was unclear how/if changes to existing agri-environment agreements might be processed after 12 November 2013, so that it might not be possible for them to be transferred on the sale of land or grant or termination of a tenancy.
It is reassuring to see a further Information Note issued on 10 January 2014. This confirms that on the transfer of any land subject to an existing agri-environment agreement, whether on a sale or on a change in a tenancy arrangement, so long as the new occupier is willing to accept responsibility for the delivery of the remainder of the obligations under that agreement, then Natural England will produce an agreement to transfer the remaining commitments to the new occupier.
Land transferred will generally remain in the same agreement type ie, HLS, Uplands ELS, OLES or ELS, but if the transfer means that a holding would become eligible for Uplands or Organic ELS then a new type of agreement may be considered. There are some helpful FAQs set out in the Information Note.
On the 9 January the Forestry Commission England also issued an email alert and Operations Note to explain how they intend to handle English Woodland Grant Scheme business during the transition from the current programme to the new programme. While they are continuing to process a small number of outstanding woodland creation applications it is not yet clear whether or not they will be able to accept further applications later in the year. The current position with regard to other EWGS grants is also summarised.