At the end of March Defra announced an increase in the payment rates for the SFI Moorland Introductory Standard.

Defra plans to launch SFI 22 Moorland Standard in June with a new annual payment rate of £10.30 per hectare – up nearly 60% from their previous offering of £6.45/ha, plus £265 per agreement.

Extra costs on commons acknowledged

On common land applications for Moorland SFI 22 must cover the whole common and be made by the commoners’ association. Defra acknowledges this incurs  extra costs. To this end they are offering commons a further £6.15 per hectare per year to set up and manage the group agreement necessary to deliver SFI 22.

Welcome but not enough

It’s good to know Defra have listened to farmers and improved the miserly payment rate they offered last Novembers. But it is not enough. Offering £16.45 per hectare minus the costs of mapping and assessing the public goods on the common is welcome, but won’t pay the bills. By no stretch of the imagination will it make up for BPS income halving by 2024, coupled with the worldwide hike in fuel, feeds, and other costs.

Defra leaves hill farmers in the lurch

Defra says SFI is not a replacement for BPS, but offer little new in return. The option of taking up Countryside Stewardship is out as 75% of moorland is already in a scheme, and new ELM moorland options won’t come on stream till 2024 at the earliest.

Public goods won’t come on the cheap 

If the government wants farmers to deliver public goods on commons based on traditional farming systems, they need to think again and offer more money.

A summary of the SFI moorland introductory standard

We don’t know all the detail yet, but here are the basics and you can find out more here

The application processes
  • Starts in June
  • Via the Rural Payments Agency
  • No deadline for applications – they will be processed on a rolling basis.
  • Straightforward and simple to fill in and you shouldn’t need to pay someone to do it for you (or so they say!)
  • More information will be provided nearer the time
Eligibility for common land
  • Must have claimed BPS on the common in 2021 or 2022.
  • The whole of the common must go into SFI – there are some variations
    • Could be more than one common if already managed as a single unit for a CS or HLS scheme.
    • Could be part of a common, only if already managed as a separate unit
Who can apply for the moorland standard?
  • Has to be a single entity such as:
    • a commoners’ association or group that manages the common with a legally enforceable internal agreement, a nominated representative, and a single bank account
    • a commons owner who has sole use to the rights of common.
What is management control?
  • You must be able to deliver and complete the SFI actions over the 3-year duration of the scheme. These actions consist of surveys, identifying public goods and opportunities to maintain and enhance them.
  • You don’t have to have everyone with legal interests in the common on board, but you must let them know the Association/Group intends to apply
  • Defra will publish more information on management control soon

No changes to land management such as livestock grazing are required for SFI Moorland Introductory Standard 

What do you have to do to deliver SFI moorland standard?

You have to complete three Actions over the three years of the Agreement.

Action 1 Survey the soil, vegetation, historic and archaeological features.

In Year 1 divide the common into 10 ha blocks, select a sample point in each block and identify, assess and record the soil, vegetation and historic and archaeological features at each sample point. E.g., for 1000 ha common you will have 100 blocks and 100 sample points.

Repeat this survey in Year 2 and 3 at a different sample point in the 10-ha block. At the end you will have a record across the common of:

  • Soil type and condition
  • Vegetation types and condition
  • Historical features

The survey is your evidence to show you have done the job

Action 2: Identify public goods your common provides

In the first year use the survey from Action 1 to identify and record the public goods – carbon, water, biodiversity, and heritage – on the common. In Year 2 add the information from the Year 2 survey to update and review your public goods record. Do the same for Year 3. Each year you will get a more comprehensive and detailed record of the public goods on your common.

Action 3: Identify opportunities to maintain or enhance the public goods your common provides

 In the first year use the information collected for Actions 1 and 2 to produce a record of opportunities to maintain and enhance the public goods on your common. As with Action 2, in Years 2 and 3 review the record and update using the Year 2 and 3 survey information where required.

The overall result will be a record of opportunities to enhance the public goods provided by your common These may include:

  • enhancing wildlife habitats
  • increasing carbon storage
  • improving the potential for water storage and slowing water flow
  • protecting and enhancing historic and archaeological features
  • identifying possible areas of woodland expansion and drainage intervention

Defra will be issuing more in detailed Guidance on how to complete each action

A stepping stone to the next levels of the Moorland Standard

Defra say these activities are likely to be funded when intermediate and advanced levels are added to the moorland standard. Therefore, you have to complete this Introductory Standard before you can move up to the next level