Scotland’s Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) has now opened for applications, albeit on a limited basis and without detail on what funding will be available.
The restricted round has opened for new applications until 30 June 2021, and farmers are being encouraged to consider applying.
The scheme provides high-levels of support to farmers, crofters and those who undertake environmental land management.
The new funding round will focus on designated sites, organics, management supporting farmland waders, corn buntings and corncrakes, slurry stores and improving public access.
It follows a concerted effort by Scottish farming industry bodies to ensure continuity of the scheme.
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said that while the projects to be supported were known, the level of support for the scheme going forward remained unclear.
AECS is a Pillar Two Rural Development Scheme, traditionally co-financed by both Europe and Scottish government.
“It is critical that funding for AECS continues and until such time as a new rural policy for Scotland is developed and implemented," Mr McCornick said.
"AECS currently requires in the region of £40 million per year – a relatively small investment that yields a big return in Scotland’s interest.
“Failure to support AECS in the next few years may result in existing contracts ending year on year from 2022 onwards and a very large area of land falling out of environmental management."
He said any decisions on the future of agri-environment schemes from 2021 and beyond must now be a priority.
"Farmers advisors need certainty and time to prepare and plan for applications with confidence so that they can deliver on high quality food production whilst meeting the challenges of biodiversity and climate change head on.
“We will be looking for a clear commitment on AECS from the Scottish gGovernment in this week’s budget announcement,” he added.