UK: Late Starter - Rural Development Kicks Into Action

Last Updated: 18 March 2008
Article by Susan Shaw

The RDPE has finally been approved. But Defra's changes to the ESS and Energy Crops Scheme could affect growers in various ways.

In December 2007, the EU Commission approved the Rural Development Plan for England (RDPE) for 2007 to 2013. After all the delays, the launch of the programme will be almost exactly one year late. Under the RDPE, approximately £4bn will be available for rural support over the seven-year period. This is more than double the last period's amount, highlighting the Government's commitment to rural development.

However, as a condition of EU approval, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had to make changes to the Environmental Stewardship Scheme (ESS) and Energy Crops Scheme.

Adapted ESS

In order to secure the RDPE, Defra had to change the ESS in three ways.

  1. Points from the four Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) management plan options (soil, nutrient, manure and crop protection) will no longer count towards the 30 points per hectare target. The EU Commission concluded that land managers were effectively being paid for activities they should have been doing anyway.

    The nutrient and manure plans will soon be a formal requirement under the new Nitrate Vunerable Zone (NVZ) rules. The soil plan was deemed insufficiently different from the Soil Protection Review under cross-compliance, and the Crop Protection plan gave points for something that should be done under good spraying practice.

    It is certainly true that some applicants picked up these points without a great deal of difficulty (although it did force others to think about these issues in more detail). What is likely to anger farmers and their advisers is the retrospective nature of these changes.

    The change in arable prices, coupled with the tightened regulations to achieve the ELS points level, might make the ELS look less inspiring than before.

  2. Defra has incorporated the new NVZ rules into new ELS and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements.

    The addition of the NVZ rules to ESS agreements only applies to applicants in the current NVZs. Only the 170kg/ha manure limit, crop nitrogen limit, spreading practices and record-keeping provisions apply as, under the NVZ rules, the other parts have a grace period before they come into force. For example, the closed periods (and storage requirements) do not apply until two years after the regulations are enacted. Any new NVZ areas only have one year's grace to comply. Therefore, these parts cannot be applied immediately.

  3. Defra will now review agreements that run beyond 2015 in 2012; a clause to this effect will be included in the agreements.

These ESS rule changes only apply to schemes entered into since the start of the new rural development programme period, which was 1 January 2007. ELS, Organic Entry Level Stewardship and HLS agreements with a start date prior to 1 February 2007 won't be affected.

Energy Crops Scheme

Defra also had to amend the planting grants for Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) and Miscanthus. Unlike the previous scheme, there will not be a fixed per hectare grant rate for each crop. Instead, scheme applicants will have to submit invoices showing their actual costs. Grant aid will be paid at 40% of the actual expenditure.

As part of the application process, growers will need to provide estimates of likely costs. If these estimates are consistent with an independent verification of typical costs, the application will be accepted on a single quote. Where estimated costs are greater than the independent verification, applicants will have to provide written evidence to explain the variation, which may involve getting further quotes. More details are available at

Furthermore, Defra also added some other traditional species, alongside the poplar and willow, to the list of trees eligible for the SRC grant. These are ash, alder, hazel, silver birch, sycamore, sweet chestnut and lime. The rules on distance to the end-user are likely to be amended for 2009 plantings. Rather than being based on a simple distance measure, applications will be judged on a carbon balance calculation.


As well as planting grants, those looking to fund bio-energy projects may be able to tap into capital grant funding from the Regional Development Agencies. Furthermore, two sector-specific national schemes will be launched sometime in early 2008.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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