I spent 10 years in the old Countryside Management Scheme, and I feel that it delivered some very good environmental outcomes for this farm.
I planted a lot of new hedgerows and put up protective fences. I wired off some woodland and some marsh around a lake. I also planted a traditional orchard.
All in all, there was a lot of work done under the scheme, but it was spread out over 10 years, so I was never under that much pressure.
I think that it was one of the best-designed schemes that I have ever taken part in. You entered into an initial five-year agreement and had that time period to do all the intended work. You could do it all in the first year if you wanted, but your payment was spread out over the five.
When the five years were up you could enter for another five years and add in more tasks.
For the life of me I cannot understand why you would change something that was operating really well but the powers that be decided to make a complete mess of a good scheme.
You still sign up for five years, however, all the work has to be done in the first. So all the money and investment must be done at the start, but then you wait at least a year before getting the payment for that work.
Over the next four years it is a matter of maintenance only. If you have done the job right initially then there will be nothing to do for four years.
Join or not
During the first few tranches of the new Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS), I debated whether to join or not. I always talked myself out of it for several reasons.
Firstly, I could not afford to spend all the money up front and have to wait for over a year. Then there was so much work that I wanted to do, but wouldn’t be able to complete in the allotted time.
I convinced myself that someone would see the errors of the scheme and change it. But this has not happened, so I applied for the most recent tranche of EFS.
Constrained by both time and money, I have had to content myself with taking on some hedge laying with two protective fences and some riparian buffer fencing (fencing along a watercourse).
I have made a start with the hedge laying, which has required a lot of effort. The first job was to remove the existing fence, and this was a torture. The existing hedge was growing through the fence. There was plenty of blood spilt and some not so pleasant words said.
We eventually got the old fence down and then there was more blood and choice words as we tried to lay the hedge.
I have laid hedges before, but it is so hard to know how much to cut out and how much to leave. Sometimes you think that you have overdone it and killed the hedge. It’s always nice when you see the green shoots coming.
We are now at the stage of putting up the protective fences, which brings us on to the next big problem with this scheme – no-one gets accepted until January and then everyone was allowed in at once.
As a result, demand for fencing products goes through the roof and it is nearly impossible to get everything that you need.
In the end, I am glad that I did not take on any more work as there is no way that I would have got all the fencing products required.
We are making progress with the fence as materials come available, and it is work that I enjoy as it gives me pride when I look at the finished job.
But hopefully someone soon in DAERA takes a look at this scheme and makes the alterations it is crying out for.