“The Agri-Environment Climate Scheme is a competitive scheme that promotes land management practices which protect and enhance Scotland’s natural heritage, improve water quality, manage flood risk and mitigate and adapt to climate change” (www.ruralpayments.org. AECS). It is part of “The Scottish Rural Development Program (SRDP) 2014 to 2020” which includes a number of specific options that can be used to increase the biodiversity value of your ground.
The “water margin management” option is one of many options that can be applied for in this scheme. It is a really useful option in a number of ways with the main aim to benefit a variety of wildlife, and help improve water quality and the physical condition of watercourses. The payment rate is £123.42/ha/yr in grassland fields and £495.62/ha/yr in arable fields. Water margins are eligible alongside flowing and still water from everything from a ditch to a lochan. The option is available only in limited areas so you must consult the scheme target maps to ensure your farm is eligible.
The width of water margin which can be applied for is between 3m and 20m dependent on the bed width of the water course. Included in this is a 2m strip that is not eligible for payment as it is already covered under the GAEC regulations. The actual compensation payments for this option are not large when calculated across such a narrow strip of land. There are however several other advantages to applying for this option. Payments for new stock fencing can be claimed, around £5.50/m, in addition to the area payments and this may well be useful when fences are required. Also a variety of alternative watering arrangements can also be claimed ranging from pasture pumps to mains water connections, piping and troughs.
In addition to the financial side this option will often help your application score the much needed points. For example it can
- address diffuse pollution risks to improve water quality for which up to 8 points are available,
- Within a water framework directive area new water margins will be worth an additional 3 points
- Water margins can contribute to linking habitats together for which up to 6 points may be available under site linkage
- New water margins count as structural works to improve water quality and mitigate flood risk giving a possible further 3 points.
- Within priority areas for water quality a further 2 points are available for spatial targeting.
The above gives a possible 22 points within a scheme although it is unlikely that all of these points can be accessed. In 2015 the number of points required to have a successful application was 14 points so water margins can contribute significantly to successful applications.
Management within a water margin is required depending on the width of the water margin. For a margin of 3m to 6m, no grazing but cutting is optional. For a margin of 6m to 20m you must cut or lightly graze the area within certain specified times.
Water Margins, especially the wider ones, are good at providing quality conservation benefit and can significantly improve the conservation status of a farm. In this climate of increased awareness of water quality and flooding some well placed water margins can improve water quality and help to slow water courses in times of spate.
Further details and information on this option can be found at www.ruralpayments.org website and note that the next application deadline is 31st March 2017.
Helen Bibby, Conservation Consultant, Oban, April 2016
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