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AECS: Funds are available to guardians of the landscape

The right kinds of project could attract funding as a restricted round opens for applications. Rachel Russell reports.

ThE Agri-Environment Climate scheme (AECs) promotes land management practices that protect and enhance scotland’s natural heritage, improve water quality, manage flood risk and mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The scheme forms part of the Scotland rural Development Programme (SrDP), which was approved by the European Commission in May 2015 with an initial budget of more than £1.3 billion to channel funds in to the rural economy.

While the management options and capital items available were extensive, AECS opened a restricted round for new applications on 25 January 2021. As there wasn’t a normal AECS application round last year, although farmers were offered one-year extensions for any AECS contracts that expired in 2020, this is the first time applicants have been able to make a new application to this flagship agri-environment programme since 2019.

Galbraith has knowledge and experience of incorporating AECS management into the current practical requirements of the farming operation and can advise on the AECS available in the 2021 round. This round is restricted to the following categories or application types:

Organic farming: organic conversion and maintenance throughout Scotland;

Protected areas: appropriate management directly benefiting designated sites, that is, management associated with designated sites that is appropriate for the direct benefit of the relevant feature, habitat or species;

Management for priority bird species outwith designated sites: waders, corncrakes and corn buntings (specific to target areas);

Slurry storage: applications for slurry storage provision in priority water quality catchments;

Improving public access: applications to improve public access provision throughout Scotland.

Funding under the scheme falls into two categories: annual payments for management options and payments for capital costs. Capital items are one-off activities that can be claimed for and paid once they have been satisfactorily completed. Annual payments for management options are set out in a contract, which is issued on submission of a successful application.

Claims for capital items are more restricted this year and must be fully justified. The scoring criteria has also changed, so we would recommend that advice is sought.

While this restricted round of funding is welcomed, the scheme forms part of Pillar Two of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which to date has been co-funded by Europe and the Scottish Government, and therefore the level of any future support is unclear at this stage.

The changes following our departure from the EU mean it is essential that anyone looking for funding is prepared and well advised to submit SrDP applications while they are available.

The application requirements are specific to the category or application type. However, Galbraith has extensive knowledge and experience of AECS and we are therefore well placed to submit an application on your behalf before the application window closes on 30 June 2021.

Advice on ongoing Scottish rural Development Programme plans and future applications is always available from Galbraith to safeguard this essential income stream.