Ministerial response to our request to extent HLS

It looks like Defra may be minded to extend expiring HLS agreements on commons. We received the folowing response to our request.

 

Dear Ms Lewis

Thank you for your email of 23 March to George Eustice about Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements in the Lake District National Park which are due to expire over the next three years. I apologise for the delay in responding.

As the number of HLS agreements that expire increases over the next few years we are keen to maintain the good work and environmental gains that has been done to enhance both common land and the uplands. To date, a high level of farms leaving HLS have moved into Countryside Stewardship.

As the number of farms coming to the end of their HLS agreements increases we are doing more to make it easier to make that move. This includes bringing a range of Higher Tier options into the Mid-Tier of Countryside Stewardship, so that farmers can access them without needing to make the more complicated Higher Tier application.

However, we do recognise that for the uplands and commons the capacity to move the number of HLS expiries to a suitable offer in CS is likely to be very challenging. For commons, as you will appreciate, we have to recognise the complexity of the tenure and the fact that they often have some of our most valued environmental features, such as designations for biodiversity and the historic environment, and a whole range of public goods that require the support of technical advice to deliver the best management to deliver the widest set of outcomes. Whilst making CS better for farms in general we would hope that this in turn supports the wider management of common land but we recognise that not all upland farms will find the CS offer attractive.

We are currently looking into whether extending expiring agreements could help with transition to a new environmental land management scheme and, for the short term, whether it is possible under the Common Agricultural Policy regulations. We will be exploring all options with interested parties. As part of this NE is hoping to have a more detailed look at the data so that we can fully understand the position with current commons agreements.

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Payne