FCE Grants and regulations news

2 March 2017

Protecting, expanding and improving England's woodlands

Countryside Stewardship Online

We are pleased to confirm that we have now released Countryside Stewardship online applications into the Rural Payments service. Customers will be able to use the Rural Payments service to apply online for Woodland Management Plan (WMP) grants and Hedgerows and Boundaries Grants (HBG). The online service will be extended later in spring 2017, when customers will also have the option to submit their Countryside Stewardship annual revenue claims and capital claims. There is a lot of help and support available - including onscreen help when applying. Support is also available from Natural England via the Rural Payments helpline on 03000 200301.

Woodland management plan grant:

Hedgerows and boundaries grant:

For those who have used the Rural Payments service before to register your business and land or apply for Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments online, Countryside Stewardship online will be familiar and straightforward to use. Applying online should reduce the need for follow up queries on your application and make it easier for customers as there are a number of onscreen validation checks to reduce customer queries.


Tree Health

Important changes to the Tree Health application form and process came into effect on the 24 February. Forestry Commission Admin Hubs are no longer accepting Countryside Stewardship Tree Health applications as the grants administration has passed over to Natural England Technical Services. All applications made from now on will need to be made using the new application form available on GOV.UK and returned to Natural England Technical Services.

You must complete the Capital grant application form and associated annex 4.

Tree health is a capital item available under Countryside Stewardship; it is open year round for applications.
Tree Health restoration supports restocking in a woodland following felling due to specific tree health diseases. Tree Health improvement supports the removal of rhododendron and uneconomic felling of diseased trees.
There have been two small changes to the restoration element of the grant:

  • The minimum restocking area for restoration will be reduced to 0.25ha – to enable us to support more landowners with smaller areas affected by disease. 
  • Restocking support will be extended from infected Ash and Larch to Sweet Chestnut affected by p.ramorum.



Capital claims and 31 March 2017 deadline

If you have an outstanding grant due for payment in the 2016/17 claim year, and are named as the applicant, you will have received a letter (sent by recorded delivery). These letters were to remind agreement holders that claims received after the 31 March 2017 will only be accepted at the discretion of the Forestry Commission, where there are exceptional circumstances for the late submission. If you are an agent named as a primary contact, you will also be receiving a letter to make you aware of the requirement to claim and the need to discuss with your clients. Each letter identifies the specific case through the individual case Single Business Identification number (SBI), case reference and grant type. 

We would also like to remind you that we can no longer amend scheme payment years, so outstanding work cannot be scheduled to a subsequent year.  


Annual Claims exercise

If you have an annual claim associated with any of the following grants we will soon be sending out your claim forms:

  • Woodland Management Grant (WMG) from an EWGS contract
  • Farm Woodland Premium Scheme (FWPS)
  • Farm Woodland Payment (FWP) 

The letter and claim will be sent by recorded delivery to the scheme’s main applicant, as they are the beneficiary of the funding. We will also contact the primary contact (which may be your agent) to make them aware of the annual claim and to contact their client. As with Capital claims, each letter identifies the individual case Single Business Identification number (SBI), case reference number and grant type for ease of identity.
Completed annual claims must be received by the Forestry Commission no later than the 15 May 2017 in order to avoid a penalty being applied to your claim. Claims received after the 9 June 2017 will result in payment for 2017 being lost altogether. Payment of the claims normally begins in December.


Accountants' certificates

If you have received an accountants’ certificate for completion it is essential that it is completed and returned to the Forestry Commission within 28 days of the covering letter (please note that we will not send a reminder). If you do not return the completed certificate in that time, your case status will change from ‘farmer’ to ‘non-farmer’. (For those schemes approved after 1 January 2007, this will result in all associated annual payments being capped at 100 Euros).

For EWGS schemes approved after 1 January 2007
The forms must be completed by a professional accountant.

For all schemes (WGS or EWGS) approved prior to 1 January 2007
We will accept certificates completed by a farm secretary, the business book keeper, or self-completion.

Owners establishing new woodlands have previously benefitted from ‘revenue foregone’ payments which recognised that the land was being removed from agricultural production in the form of a compensatory payment for loss of income. From 2007, higher rates were available for farmers who received more than 25% of their income from farming activity. The EU required us to make annual checks on those applicants in receipt of the higher rate of grant and this is done through the use of an accountants’ certificate.


Selling all or part of your property?

If you have recently sold, or are thinking of selling, your land and have received annual payments (usually Farm Woodland revenue foregone payments), it is important that you notify the Forestry Commission of the sale of the land, generally within three months of the date of transfer. However, schemes have differing timescales so please refer to Operations Note 014 – Change of ownership general information in all cases for specific details about your scheme.

A new owner may succeed the original scheme and benefit from any remaining grant payments. Generally the new owner must submit an application to succeed a scheme within 12 months of the date of transfer to them. However schemes have differing timescales so please refer to Operations Note 014 – Change of ownership general information in all cases for specific details about your scheme.

Advice for Sellers
If you are, or have been, in receipt of WGS or EWGS annual payments - but especially through either the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme (FWPS) or Farm Woodland Payments (FWP) - and you have either recently sold, or are considering selling, your property, it is extremely important that you contact your local area administration office to make them aware. There are strict EU rules which must be complied with when selling a property where annual payments have been claimed, details of which can be found in the recently updated Operations Note 014 – Change of ownership general information.

We encourage all those selling a property to ensure that the purchaser succeeds to the scheme. Again, there is a strict timescale in which such a succession must be instigated, details of which can again be found in Operations Note 014.

Failure to either notify the FC of the sale of a property, or failure of the new owner to succeed to the scheme is likely to result in the FC having to recover all payments made to the original agreement holder(s).

Other grants

LEADER grants are available across most of the South Westand they are keen to encourage forestry businesses to apply soon. Eligible projects include kit for woodland harvesting, small-scale extraction and processing, as well as adding value, creating alternative products and developing new forest technologies. Projects need to be able to show there will be an improvement in productivity and ideally sustainable employment. You can find out more and see the contacts for your local area here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/rural-development-programme-for-england-leader-funding. We would recommend contacting them soon if you have a potential project so that they know whether they have sufficient forestry projects coming forward, even if you need some time to work up your application.

Growth Deal grants are currently available for rural businesses for business development, food processing and rural tourism infrastructure. These grants are unfortunately not available for core forestry business investments, but since many of you might also have an interest in other projects or investments, we thought we would bring the grants to your attention. 

Forestry Commission England