Countryside Stewardship Mirror Agreements Reflecting on the Opportunity

Countryside Stewardship Mirror Agreements – Reflecting on the Opportunity

Charles Garrard

Charles Garrard

Apr, 28 2021

Many farmers and landowners who have Countryside Stewardship (CS) schemes coming to an end this year will have been contacted about the opportunity to renew under what are being referred to as ‘mirror agreements’. The idea behind the proposal is to help landowners and farmers transition into the new ELMS scheme, but we believe there may be several other factors to consider before signing another five-year agreement. 

In recent years we have seen one-year extensions offered to existing ELS/HLS agreement holders, but these mirror agreements are the first to materialise through CS. 

There are a few caveats and eligibility requirements to the mirror agreements: 

  1. Agreements must not have expired or been terminated before the mirror agreement is accepted. 
  2. Any incomplete capital works will be removed from the mirror agreement. 
  3. There must not be any outstanding land transfers and all necessary paperwork for the previous agreement must have been completed. 
  4. You cannot use a Mid Tier / Higher Tier mirror agreement offer to change options in the current agreement.
  5. There must be no unresolved breaches or outstanding non-compliances issues related to the previous agreement.
  6. There can be no unmanaged Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or Scheduled Monuments (SM) on your holding – these must be managed in the new mirror agreement. 
  7. Mirror agreements will not be available for woodland options in mixed agreements (i.e. Higher Tier mixed agreements).
  8. For Higher Tier only, mirror agreements are not available on any agreement that has no Higher Tier options remaining after any required amendments have been made to remove options that are no longer available (i.e. organic conversion options). 

Higher Tier Agreements 

At this stage, we have not seen many mirror agreements offered to Higher Tier agreement holders. Our understanding is that all Higher Tier agreements will undergo initial assessment by a Natural England adviser, and they alone will decide whether an agreement still meets the rules and provides the environmental outcomes it was set up to deliver. As such, Higher Tier agreement holders may well see many ‘creation’ options merge into ‘maintenance’ options in a new agreement.  

Mirror Agreement – Positives 

  • A simpler option!
  • Easy to manage an agreement well known over the past 5 years. 
  • No need to change location of margins, plots and options. 
  • Totally new agreement – no backdating claims or penalties to 5+ years ago. 
  • No-penalty break clause when ELMS begins. 

Further Considerations 

Having been in an agreement for five years already, the opportunity of a new agreement and a ‘blank slate’ would be appealing for many businesses. With better knowledge of the first agreements, a new scheme could be adapted and tailored to different options on the wider farm. Many of the early entrants to CS merely chose to adapt old ELS agreements, with very basic options which may not have delivered the best return for businesses if we were to consider them now.  

A key point of mirror agreements is that you cannot add in new capital works. Depending on where your holding sits in the country, areas of High Priority will be eligible for a range of capital works, all of which could add further value under a new agreement. 

It has been widely publicised and accepted that any business entering into a new CS agreement would be able to transition to ELMS – without fear of penalty or paying back funds – if they would be disadvantaged by staying with the older scheme.  

Finally, with Basic Payment slowly reducing, many might see the opportunity to add value to the wider business with a more extensive Mid or Higher Tier scheme to help bridge the funding gap over the next few years.  

Before accepting a mirror agreement, it is important to carefully check the existing scheme and challenge yourself if any changes would improve anything from the original offer. We have all learnt a great deal from early applications and in most cases are confident of adding further value over the next five years with a brand-new agreement. 

For a free initial meeting on the options available to your business going forwards, please contact your nearest Ceres Rural office. 

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