Inspections on Countryside Stewardship Agreements increase
Wirtten by: Evie Price
Inspections on Countryside Stewardship Agreements increase, after almost 3 years of the scheme running.
We have noticed a sudden increase in the number of clients receiving RPA inspections on their countryside stewardship agreements. We have attended a few of these inspections within the last month; one being an on the spot inspection, to look at option specific records, followed by a farm walk to measure the area of options out in the field.
It is thought that due to the scheme still being relatively new, and with a minor uptake in the first couple of years following its launch, only a small number of inspections were carried out during 2016 and 2017. This means the inspection process for CSS agreements is still relatively fresh to most inspectors, however it will of course be very similar to other stewardship inspections, such as for ELS and HLS.
The scheme has become renowned for not only its late agreement offers and clunky administration, but for the humungous amount of paperwork and red tape involved.
Therefore, we’ve picked out 3 steps to ensure you are at least somewhat prepared for a CSS inspection on your farm:
1 - Familiarise yourself with your agreement.
About 10 pages in, following the options and parcel summary, you will find detailed requirements for each option; the “do’s and don’ts”. These answer all of the questions such as “when can I top the buffer strip?” without having to wade through the 100+ page scheme manual
2 - It does not stop at the option being present in the field.
Many options require option specific records and evidence.
Items such as stocking rates, seed invoices and field operations, e.g. sowing dates for AB9 (winter bird food). Ensure that you keep these items filed for random record checks at claim stage or full on-farm inspections.
Some options require you to fill out and submit forms with the annual revenue claim. Option HS1 involves the agreement holder filling out a ‘building maintenance plan and log’, to be submitted to NE annually, alongside the reviewed ‘wildlife assessment form’.
3 - Don’t get caught out.
The RPA are only required to give you 48 hours’ notice of an inspection, and it is possible to receive none at all – an “on the spot inspection” where an inspector can turn up in your farmyard without prior notice. Make time to sit down and catch up on your paperwork each month.