The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has published updated guidance confirming the basis on which it will offer a one-year Higher-Level Stewardship agreement extension for agreements with a 2012 start date that expire in 2022. The RPA are offering extensions to the agreements to maintain the environmental outcomes that have been invested in during the existence of the scheme.
Agreements that were extended in 2019, 2020 or 2021 may also be eligible to be extended for a further year. The extensions can be offered where the current Higher-Level Stewardship agreement already delivers the environmental outcomes expected and certain requirements that are set out in the guidance are met.
However, Higher-Level Stewardship extensions cannot be used to add, remove or replace options in the current agreement and any incomplete capital works will be removed from the agreement. The agreement holder must complete all necessary paperwork in respect of the Higher-Level Stewardship Agreement before the agreement can be extended.
Higher Level Stewardship agreement extensions are intended to be a short-term measure in anticipation of a new Environmental Land Management scheme; this is expected to be rolled out in 2024. For agreements that started in 2012 and are due to expire in 2022, Natural England will assess which agreements may be suitable for extension. An advisor will then contact relevant agreement holders to check nothing has changed on the land and to arrange a site visit if necessary.
Natural England assessments are expected to be completed and recommendations made to the RPA by December. The RPA will decide on Higher Level Stewardship agreement extensions and, if suitable, make an extension offer with an amended version of the original Higher-Level Stewardship agreement. The guidance explains that, in subsequent years, the RPA will consider whether to offer extensions to all holders of expiring agreements, depending on value for money.