Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann MLA has welcomed a commitment to the UUP from the Department of Agriculture that a new tranche of the Wider Level of the Environmental Farming Scheme will be opening for applications on 19 August. He was commenting after his party received an update on the scheme from DAERA.
Robin Swann said:
“Overall the EFS has been quite successful. Whilst at the beginning awareness of the scheme was quite limited, over time and as word of the scheme spread more and more farmers are coming forward and expressing an interest in it.
“The aim of the scheme is to restore, preserve and enhance biodiversity, as well as seeking a number of other objectives such as improving water quality. As farmers are the custodians of the vast majority of local land it was inevitable that the scheme would be designed to support them carrying out positive environmental management on their farms.
“The scheme has a number of levels with the Higher Level focusing primarily on environmentally designated sites and priority species, with the Wider Level used to deliver other benefits on land outside of environmentally designated areas. The creation of riparian buffers for instance are a key priority in the Wider scheme.
“The scheme is entirely voluntary and in return for undertaking certain actions farmers can recoup costs, as well as in some cases in the likes of the Higher Level draw down financial support throughout the entirety of their five year agreement periods.
“Recently my Party received an update on the EFS from Denis McMahon, the Permanent Secretary in DAERA.
“In it we were informed that when Tranche 1 of the scheme opened in 2017, approximately 1,300 five-year agreements were later commenced with an expenditure commitment of £18.4m.
“Similarly, approximately 1,780 Tranche 2 agreements commenced on 1 January 2019 with an expenditure commitment of £24.7million.
“Earlier this year Tranche 3 of the Higher Level scheme opened earlier this year and generated 932 applications. At the time however I was disappointed that only around 300 of those received a letter of offer and this is something that I hope the Department will consider when planning for future schemes. I would have thought that the Department would have embraced all farmers coming forward that were looking to manage their land through the scheme.
“The most important part of the update however was the confirmation from DAERA that a 3rd new Tranche of the Wider Level EFS will again open for applications on 19 August and that it will run until 20 September.
“This is positive news as I have spoken to several farm businesses in recent months that told me they were hoping for news on a further scheme so that they could plan for new fencing works for instance.
“The Department said that the options offered in Tranche 3 Wider will be the same as previous Tranches with the exception of the Tree Enhanced Boundary option which has already exceeded target uptake.
“All Tranche 3 agreements will be issued in December/January and will commence on 1 January 2020.
“I was reassured that there are also plans for a further final tranche of the scheme next year. I would urge all farmers who are interested in the scheme to consider applying, especially as there is no guarantee what other support will exist in future years.”