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The scheme is open to all occupiers of agricultural land, on a competitive basis, based on a point scoring application system. Applicants produce an environmental audit for the holding which provides a basis for the agreed prescriptions. The 5-year contract has up to four elements as indicated in Table 22.1. The scheme uses a Good Farming Practice requirement to ensure a degree of environmental protection across the holding at no direct exchequer cost. However this will be replaced to a considerable extent from 2005 by the requirement to maintain land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition as cross-compliance for the Single Farm Payment, which reduces the environmental minimum requirements compared to Good Farming Practice.

Table 22.1 : Basic elements of RSS

Element Type Payment
Basic environmental standards (Good Farming Practice) Mandatory – applies over the whole farm. None
Selected management prescriptions. Voluntary Fixed annual payment per ha of prescription.
Selected capital works to benefit habitats and features. Voluntary Single fixed payment per unit of capital works.
Selected capital works associated with management options. Voluntary – only available in the context of the relevant management option. Single fixed payment per unit of capital works.

The RSS has a well-selected range of environmental enhancement measures that clearly indicate the environmental objectives pursued. These are implemented through over 30 management options each with its management prescriptions, which broadly distinguish the following categories:

Payments are at fixed rates with no upper limit on the total payment under a plan. However, payments are reduced to 80% of the full rate where the total area of habitats proposed for management exceeds 100 ha of inbye land or 1000 hectares of rough grazings (2000 hectares for Common Grazings). While total payments for dyking in any single application cannot exceed 35% of the total cost of an RSS proposal (excluding stock disposal and the interest element of the annualised payment), expenditure on capital items not linked to management (i.e. stand-alone capital items) cannot exceed 25% of the total management payments due. Overall, a ceiling of £30,000 per application is implemented in the RSS.

Participants are chosen through discretionary selection using a scoring system to rank applications, the highest scores being accepted into the scheme. The scoring takes into account the number of activities proposed and the contribution to national and local BAPs: greater priority is given to BAP-relevant proposals. The scoring system was intended to select high value for money applications, hence raising efficiency in procuring environmental gain. Landholders who previously had successful ESA or CPS agreements are guaranteed entry into RSS thus ensuring that benefits gained under previous schemes are not jeopardised by the RSS points scoring system.

Rural Stewardship Scheme - evaluation >>