Guest blog by Anna Brand, Land Use Policy Officer, RSPB Scotland
The Agri-environment Climate Scheme (or AECS) began accepting applications for its 2018 round on January 17th. The scheme compensates and/or incentivises farmers and crofters for managing their land to help wildlife, to improve the health of the wider environment, and to help tackle climate change, contributing towards sustainable land management for years to come.
AECS is one of the best ways to get financial support to help wildlife and do our bit for the environment. Through the scheme you can access public funding to help save threatened farmland species such as the corncrake, corn bunting, curlew, marsh fritillary and great yellow bumblebee as well as protecting soil and water. It can also be used to create, manage or restore important farmland habitats such as hedgerows, wetlands and species-rich grasslands. Applications can be submitted both as a single business, and when working as a collaboration with neighbours and nearby holdings. It can also help support traditional crofting practices that allow certain species and habitats to thrive, like keeping cattle on the Western Isles to benefit machair – a long-standing part of many crofting businesses.
As with any funding scheme, the application process can seem daunting, but starting early, seeking advice, and checking out Scottish Government’s full top tips and common application mistakes can help with some of the usual pitfalls. We’re just discussing a snapshot of these here.
One of the first important steps is to check out what is available on your land. Which options are available on your holding? Which parts of your farm are eligible for the options that you are interested in? Where is the best place for wildlife to put each of the options? Resources such as Farm Wildlife can provide advice on how you can maximise the benefit of your agri-environment options for wildlife.
If you have land on a designated site (e.g. SPA, SSSI or an SAC), there may be additional requirements you need to consider. Scottish Government advise that you check with Scottish Natural Heritage if you are on a designated site, and they may be able to offer you some advice.
You must also check which documents you need to submit. For example, you can earn points for managing your land to benefit priority species, if you have fulfilled the necessary requirements. If you have, say, curlew and snipe on your farm, you can score points for managing for these if you have included wader options and capital items in your application and submitted the Vulnerable Priority Species form. The same applies for other priority species; the full list can be found here.
Collaborative applications with neighbours can, if well designed, be better for wildlife by providing larger, linked up habitats. For this reason, working with neighbours can earn additional points in the assessment process, increasing your chances of a successful application. But as with the priority species, if you are submitting a collaborative application, you need to make sure you have submitted the proof for these collaborations; you can find more information here: Scoring Criteria.
These are just some suggestions for a smooth application process to AECS. If in doubt about the application, get in touch with your local RPID or SNH office. The window which opened on January 17th runs until April 13th, with an extension to May 31st for applications of more than 5 collaborators.
Images: Machair by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com); young lapwing by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).