Landowners: The new EFS needs you

Brian Malcomson, MICFor, Scottish Woodlands Ltd
Brian Malcomson, MICFor, Scottish Woodlands Ltd

As many of you will be aware the new Environmental Farming Scheme opened to applicants on Monday, February 27, writes Brian Malcomson, MICFor, Scottish Woodlands Ltd.

This voluntary scheme is designed to provide assistance to farmers and landowners who wish to implement environmentally beneficial farming practices on agricultural land.

Since the Forest Expansion Scheme was opened by Forest Service which is designed to encourage woodland creation greater than five hectares there has been no funding available to assist landowners to create new woodland with less than five hectares.

The scheme is open to applicants who have a DAERA category 1 or Category 2 Business ID, has at least three hectares of eligible agricultural land which they have management control of and is actively farming that land. If the land is currently still within a previous agri-environment scheme agreement then applicants will not be eligible to apply for EFS until this has expired.

The scheme is separated into three levels, the main two are called the Wider level and the Higher level.

The Wider level is aimed at delivering benefits across the wider countryside, but excludes environmentally designated areas. This is the scheme which will be relevant to the majority of landowners.

There are a number of options available to landowners for planting trees and woodland under the wider scheme, which include:

o Establishment of Agro-forestry – this is the practice of growing trees amongst agricultural and horticultural crops;

o Planting native tree corridors;

o Planting new hedgerows including new protective fences;

o Creation of riparian buffers with trees adjacent watercourses;

o Establishment of native woodland less than five hectares.

Deciding which one is most suitable will be determined by the landowners’ aims, objectives and vision for his own farming enterprise.

Additionally, extra costs associated with planting trees on part fields such as fencing and installing new gates and drinkers including pipework may be claimed through the additional capital items.

The Higher level is aimed at those that farm within environmentally designated areas such as ASSI’s, SAC’s and SPA’s and is designed to maintain or enhance priority habitats and species. Within this level scrub control and control of invasive species such as Rhododendron ponticum, Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and Giant hogweed may be eligible for funding.

Applications to the scheme can only be made online through DAERA online services. This online application process will help to guide the applicant through the process which is simple to follow and will minimise mistakes by warning the user if they have not completed a section. For those that have not used the DAERA online services before you will need to register with Government Gateway. To do this call 0300 200 7848 or go to https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/services/daera-online-services.

The five week application period which is very short commences from Monday 27th February and is due to close on Friday 31st March. For this reason there is no time to lose and therefore, I would encourage all who are interested in the scheme to submit their application without delay. Scottish Woodlands Ltd staff are available to assist you with this process.

The agreements from the scheme will last for five years, however, agreements from tranche 1 may last for 5.5 years.

The majority of the tree planting options have a retention period of between 10-15 years after the expiry of the EFS agreement. The landowner is eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme throughout the agreement and retention period provided SFP was claimed and paid on the land in 2008.

The Environmental Farming Scheme information booklet can be downloaded from the DAERA website at: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/environmental-farming-scheme-efs.

For further advice and support please contact: Brian Malcomson, MICFor, Scottish Woodlands Ltd, telephone: 028 276 38026, mobile: 07795471006, email: brian.malcomson@scottishwoodlands.co.uk.