Ending Agri-environment Agreements Early

Defra has released information on how and when existing Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement holders can exit their current agreements if they wish to.  From September, CS Mid Tier and HLS agreement holders will be able to apply to end their existing agreements early to go into the SFI or a CS Higher Tier scheme (opening this winter) either:

  • at the end of the current agreement year and receive the full payment due for that year (subject to meeting the requirements of the agreement)
  • before the end of the current agreement year, but not receive payment for the part of the current agreement year that’s already completed

Note, that it will not be possible to end existing agreements before September.

Contrary to previous advice, there will not be any requirement for the new agreement to be the same or ‘better’ than the existing agreement.  Previously the message had been that early termination would only be allowed if the new agreement would deliver the same or greater environmental benefits as the existing agreement.  However, we always thought this would be difficult to show when the system doesn’t allow a new scheme to be applied for when the old one is still running.

If the existing agreement includes an SSSI or Scheduled Monument, agreement holders will need to keep managing the land in line with the requirements of those designations.

The case is not so straight forward for those with a CS Higher Tier agreement.  It will only be possible to end the existing agreement early ‘by exception’.  Defra has not expanded on the criteria for this as yet, and has said more information will be available in the summer together with details on how CS MT and HLS agreement holders can apply to end their agreements.

In terms of agreements which end on 31st December 2024, Defra has said it should be possible to apply for an SFI or CS Higher Tier agreement ahead of this date, so that the new agreement is ready to commence on 1st January 2025.  Furthermore, agreement holders are reminded that they can apply for an SFI agreement to run alongside an existing agreement as long as the actions under both schemes are compatible and there is no double funding.

Ending an existing agreement early to enter the SFI is one of the most common questions we receive.  This does give a time frame, even if we still don’t have all the detail.  We also know of cases where there has been a problem applying for SFI when an HLS or CS agreement is coming to an end or has recently finished, hopefully this means Defra has addressed or will be addressing this problem shortly.

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