A more simplified Countryside Stewardship scheme has opened for 2018 application packs, after farmers complained the scheme is 'too complicated'.
Four simpler offers are being introduced this year to complement the existing Higher Tier and Mid Tier offers and open up the scheme to more farmers and land managers.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove first announced the streamlined plans in November last year, explaining how Defra will make "practical and pragmatic" changes.
Unlike existing offers, all landowners who make a valid application for any of the four new packages will be guaranteed funding though the scheme.
Defra said this application window is an opportunity for farmers new to Countryside Stewardship, or those coming out of previous stewardship agreements, to sign up for an agreement that will be guaranteed for its lifetime, to protect wildlife, boost biodiversity and deliver environmental benefits for their local communities.
Earlier this month, Environment Secretary Michael Gove outlined government plans to replace existing farm subsidies outside the EU with a new system of public money for public goods.
Ahead of this, the new CS offers are an opportunity for more farmers to establish environmental practices on their land.
The Rural Payments Agency and Natural England have been tasked with simplifying the scheme, to save farmers time and cut down on paperwork.
As part of this, farmers applying for the new CS Offers who meet the eligibility requirements will be able to get an agreement to deliver as few as 3 options, or as many as 7 up to 14, depending on the offer applied for.
In a statement, Defra said: "The new CS Offers are a chance for those who’ve been put off the scheme in the past to look again at what’s on offer and what they might be able to achieve on their land."
"The government has made clear its intention to go on supporting farmers for many years to come to deliver public goods, in terms of producing high quality food, boosting biodiversity and making our countryside a safe haven for our iconic wildlife."
Farming Minister George Eustice said farmers have seen farmland birds recover in numbers and biodiversity boosted on farms signed up to Countryside Stewardship agreements.
However, he said Defra have listened to those who said the schemes had become "too complicated".
Mr Eustice said: “The new Countryside Stewardship offers available this year are much simpler to apply for and cover a full range of different farm types, so farmers can deliver environmental benefits wherever and whatever they farm.
“My message to farmers who’ve been put off Countryside Stewardship in the last few rounds is to take another look and see what’s on offer this year.
“We’ve listened to farmers and we’ve simplified the offering to create a universal scheme to appeal to farmers new to stewardship and those coming out of ELS so they can continue the good work on their farms.”
Farmers and land managers have until 31 May to request a paper application pack. Farmers intending to apply online this year will be able to create their Online Arable Offer application pack from 20 February.