One of the main aims of Environmental Stewardship is to promote public access and understanding of the countryside. Farmers entering into Higher Level Scheme (HLS) agreements or who have existing HLS agreements may be eligible for capital and revenue funding for visitor access to their farms.
Natural England has very limited HLS funding available for all access capital items, as detailed in the Capital items section of the HLS handbook Section 4 - Capital items. These range from benches and kissing gates to larger projects such as on farm classrooms and toilet facilities.
Farmers in HLS who were able to demonstrate the potential for their farms to host high quality educational visits for school children or care farming clients were asked to contact their local Natural England Land Management Adviser by 30 June 2012 to apply for funding to assist with the provision of facilities.
As of July 2012 this budget has been fully committed. Projects already in discussion must be negotiated with Natural England and approved with final quotes in the HLS agreement by the end of August 2012. Any projects unable to meet these deadlines will be rejected. Any items must be claimed with receipted invoices before the end of February 2014. This will typically mean projects need completing during 2013. Late claims may not be paid.
Educational access Capital grants can assist with creating on-farm classroom facilities, toilets/washrooms, farm trailers for transporting school visits to points of interest on the farm, providing access furniture such as kissing gates for permissive access routes and Countryside Educational Visits Accreditation Scheme (CEVAS).
The rate of grant available depends on the work being undertaken. For example access furniture has set grant rates, educational access facilities such as classrooms can receive up to 80 percent of the total cost subject to a ceiling of £50,000 for classroom facilities and £25,000 for toilets/washing facilities. CEVAS training can be paid in full.
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Farmers can apply for Educational Access options for new and existing HLS agreements. The payments are for an annual base payment of £500 and payments of £100 per visit for educational visits for school pupils up to and including age 16 or for Care Farming visits. The maximum payment for educational visits available is for 25 visits per farm per annum. The minimum payment is 4 visits per farm per annum.
Permissive access revenue payments cannot be included in new HLS agreements. Where the provision of permissive linear routes or open access under an agri-environment scheme has proved to be of public benefit then Natural England and Defra are keen that permissive access should continue on a voluntary basis.
If the agreement holder is willing to consider allowing voluntary permissive access a number of factors should be considered before they agree to this happening – these are set out in this guidance note: (239kb).