Stewardship Schemes: 4 Things to Think About

For those planning to enter a stewardship scheme, it is high time to start thinking about your options. With so many schemes now available, choosing the right one – particularly given the harsher economic climate – will be an important consideration for farmers, landowners and shoot managers alike.

Leaving such a key decision to the last minute will simply cause unnecessary stress and even hasten the wrong selections in some cases.

As the shooting season gets into full swing, it is a good opportunity to see what areas of the shoot are working, and what areas could be improved: adopting the right stewardship scheme is often the key to improving struggling areas.

An abundance of factors to consider before settling on the right scheme for your land, these include pollinator population, water courses, farming profitability, farmland bird population, and so on.

We’ve bundled all of these into four easy to follow categories. So read on before making any final decisions…

Habitat (The three-legged stool)

As land managers, we are well aware that one of our key responsibilities is to enhance biodiversity and create habitat.

The first thing to do is take stock and look at what is currently growing, and what is currently working. Can this be added to? Is there an existing hedgerow that will be enhanced with a strip of wild-bird mix or wildflowers next to it? Or, is there a new place that a hedge can be planted?

Building on what habitat is already there is a great place to start.

We often talk about the three-legged stool for successful habitat creation that consists of habitat, predator control and over-winter feeding. Without all of these, farmland and game birds will struggle. However, within habitat, there is another stool, consisting of nesting, brood-rearing and over-wintering cover.

So, if some of these boxes are ticked, is it possible to enhance what is there and tick them all? There is money to be earned if carried out correctly.

Options to consider – AB1: Nectar Flower Mix, AB9: Winter Bird Food, AB16: Autumn Sown Bumblebird Mix

Current Farming Practises

For a stewardship scheme to be truly successful, we should also think about the current farming practise and what the land is being used for. What are the goals of the grower? What is the layout of the farm?

Where some farms might suit a higher level of stewardship, others are better suited to more basic levels, such as some of the options offered under the sustainable farming incentive (SFI).

Stewardship can also offer a farm an avenue to offset some risk. Generally, farmers know the gross margin for crop land, or what the yield from cattle grazing it can be. However, this comes with a risk, being subject to global markets, as well as the increasingly unpredictable British weather. Although farmers won’t want to commit an entire farm to stewardship, it is a fairly risk averse line of income – knowing how much its costs and how much it will generate.

Some schemes can provide multiple income too. For example, GS4 grass options gain annual payments once established, but can also create other income streams. Hay can be made and sold, it can be sold as standing grass, or the farms own animals can also graze it.

Stewardship schemes can also provide the opportunity for more a more extreme change to farming practises. Entering a five-year scheme presents the possibility of complete transformation. If arable or dairy is no longer working, a farm fully committed to environmental schemes allows a different path to be taken.

Putting a large area to stewardship can also save on labour costs as they require less manpower.

Stewardship Can Help Utilise Unproductive Areas

Stewardship schemes can be a godsend when tackling those irritating, difficult to reach and unproductive areas of a farm. Most farms have areas that can’t be ploughed or combined, and that aren’t particularly conducive to growing cash crops. Most farms also have areas that are difficult to graze. The right stewardship scheme can cover these areas with a crop that presents a guaranteed income from the government.

Most of the below will fit into the SW codes under mid-tier stewardship, for example – SW1: 4m to 6m buffer strip on cultivated land, SW3: In-field grass strips, SW6: Winter cover crops. SW2, SW4, SW7, SW8, SW9 are also worth looking at.

Some of these areas, but certainly not all, include:

  • Wet lying land
  • Steep ground that can be prone to run-off
  • Field margins
  • Field corners – AB8 wildflower mixes are perfect for this.

Capital Works

There are a number of Capital Grants available via government stewardship schemes that involve looking after farm buildings and farmland, all of which carry a financial incentive. There are dozens of these, and they include things like: fencing, hedgerows, concrete pads, gate access, stone wall restoration, pasture pumps and pipe work, water course crossings, slurry stores and lots more.

Many of these things are works that are regularly undertaken by farmers and landowners. So, you could be getting paid for something that you are already doing.

We’re Here to Help

Bright Seeds is here to help! Deciding what stewardship scheme is right for your land can be a complicated and frustrating process – especially after a day working the farm or keepering on the shoot.

We can help discuss layouts, where things might work, timings and ways to maximise income. Of course, we will also offer the best advice on where certain mixtures or crops work best. So please, feel free to get in touch with any questions or queries.