The Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) is Scotland’s principal environmental scheme and the main mechanism of support for farmers and crofters looking to positively position themselves for nature net gain. The scheme offers participants set payments for agreed management practices that are tied to high nature value farming principles. It also offers supplementary support for capital infrastructure to help deliver specific management options.
With Scottish Government having previously announced the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity decline, AECS has a range of different land management options that aim to promote good practice. These include retention of winter stubble for wildlife and water quality, grazing exclusion periods to benefit national priority bird species or the sustainable management of semi-natural habitats, like species-rich grassland pastures, wetlands, areas of scrub or even extensive upland parcels. The scheme has been designed to offer something for everyone, regardless of business type, including options specifically for small units.
AECS is competitive as there is a limited budget, so proposals are chosen which offer the greatest benefits for nature. Each application is scored on a number of factors, including scale of delivery, national priorities, habitat linkage, long-term benefit, value for money and collaboration, along with other considerations. Prospective applicants are encouraged to develop comprehensive plans that build points across a number of these areas for the best chance of success. The points threshold is established annually for all applications, but only after the submission deadline so applicants and agents do not know in advance exactly how many points will be required for approval.
Broadly speaking the scheme offers support across three main areas, the first of these being environmental management options across land parcels and on the farm steading. These tend to focus on provision and management of farmland habitats and pollution mitigation. Secondly, AECS provides support for conversion to or continuation of organic farming practices and thirdly, support with improving slurry storage to bring a business up to six months storage capacity.
Each funding stream has its own application window for 2024 so it is crucial that businesses apply within the correct timeframe:
- Slurry stores: Will open in early 2024, details will follow shortly.
- Stand-alone organic conversion and maintenance: 01 February 2024 – 31 July 2024.
- Agri-environment: 01 February 2024 – 10 June 2024.
Note: If you are applying for organic conversion and maintenance as part of a single application with agri-environment management it must be submitted by the 10 June deadline.
This new funding round will see the return and expansion of some management options that were previously capped. In an effort to increase the support available for organic farming, the 1,000ha limit on claimable land has been removed, allowing businesses to maximise what they are eligible for. Also returning this year is funding for pond creation and restoration, though there is a cap on total claimable area – 2,000m2 per application and 600m2 per pond. The cap on the creation of hedgerows has been increased from 500m to 1,000m. In addition, the following capital support is also returning:
- Restoring drystone or flagstone dykes.
- Heather cutting, but not muirburn.
- Primary treatment of bracken – mechanised.
- Follow up treatment of bracken – mechanised.
Please note that the chemical control of bracken is no longer funded through AECS following the decision by the manufacturers of Asulam not to pursue authorisation for the chemical in the UK.
Those businesses interested in exploring their options are encouraged to get in touch with a local advisor as soon as possible, and where an application will impact a site designated for its nature value it is highly recommended that the business seek early engagement with NatureScot.
Alex Pirie, SAC Consulting
Linked FAS Resources
- Converting to Organic Farming | Helping farmers in Scotland | Farm Advisory Service (fas.scot)
- Getting Started with Organic Farming – How to Convert to Organic | Helping farmers in Scotland | Farm Advisory Service (fas.scot)
- AECS 2024, The Nature Restoration Fund and The Scottish Agricultural Awards | Information helping farmers in Scotland | Farm Advisory Service (fas.scot)
- Technical note (TN722): Identification of Moorland Habitats
- Technical note (TN705): Management of wetlands for wildlife
- Technical note (TN688): Management and Conservation for Farmland Waders
- Technical note (TN687): Managing Arable Farmland for Biodiversity
- Technical note (TN686): Conservation Grazing for Semi-Natural Habitats
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