Guidance

Inspection: Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship

Information for farmers about inspections the Rural Payments Agency carries out on options and capital items, records, and changes to boundaries and features.

Applies to England

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) inspects a percentage of agreements each year to check that agreement holders are meeting the schemes’ terms and conditions.

Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements which started on or after 1 January 2021 must meet (UK) domestic rules and regulations. CS and Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreements starting in previous years must still meet European Union (EU) rules and regulations.

For domestic CS agreements, we use the term ‘environmental outcome site visit’ instead of ‘inspection’ because we want to focus on the environmental outcomes of the agreement.

You can read more about our approach to UK domestic CS inspections and options.

Who gets inspected

RPA uses risk, including campaign (option) based criteria, and random selection to choose some agreements for inspection or environmental outcome site visit. We will tell you how your agreement was selected on the report form.

We will try to combine visits if you have more than one agri-agreement scheme, such as CS or ES agreement, or have claimed other agri-environmental grants and subsidies.

Prepare for inspection or environmental outcome site visit

EU agreement inspections

For EU agreements (before 1 Jan 2021), the RPA inspector:

  • will give no more than 48 hours notice of the inspection visit
  • cannot give any notice when regulations require them not to contact you in advance

For EU agreements, inspectors cannot make judgements or give advice about your agreement. If you have questions about your agreement, contact RPA.

UK domestic environmental outcome site visits

The environmental outcome site visit notice periods under UK domestic regulations are:

  • 14 days for capital works (longer with mitigating circumstances)
  • 72 hours for revenue claims (extending to 7 days with mitigating circumstances)

General information

You should be available to meet the inspector when they arrive.

You must give the inspector access to your land at a reasonable time.

The inspector will need details and location of any:

  • rotational options
  • relevant livestock on the farm
  • mobile capital items

To save time you should keep:

  • agreements and option records up-to-date and close at hand
  • receipts, invoices or other supporting information together and sorted by date
  • copies of claims, declarations or other agreement-related documents that you have submitted

For each option in your agreement, details of the management activities you need to carry out are included in the agreement. You must keep records to show your management activity for each option.

For some options, you may have to:

  • record management activities in on-farm diaries, such as applying fertilisers or pesticides
  • maintain stocking diaries to show when land parcels were grazed or supplementary feeding was used
  • monitor reports for year 3 and 5 of the agreement to confirm progress (for example providing before and after photographs, a record of the number of deer culled and the results of squirrel monitoring)

For more information on record keeping requirements read the handbook or manual relevant to your agreement at:

There are specific requirements for livestock record keeping in:

The inspection or environmental outcome site visit

Our inspector will:

  • confirm the agreement they need to check
  • discuss a schedule for the visit and estimate how long it will take
  • explain what they need to check
  • discuss with you what evidence and records they may need to see
  • check your agreement options and any capital items that form part of your agreement
  • check records, invoices and other evidence if applicable
  • check if there are changes to boundaries or ineligible features
  • check the requirements as set out in the scheme handbooks and any relevant cross compliance requirements are being met
  • write notes and take photographs to support observations they make in their report

You should make sure the inspector sees all your land under the agreement.

For EU CS agreements (before 1 Jan 2021), inspectors cannot make judgements or give advice about your agreement. If you have questions about your agreement contact RPA.

For CS domestic agreements, we will continue to support customers by offering advice and guidance to help bring about the environmental benefits from their revenue options or capital items. Find out more about CS domestic environmental outcome site visits and options.

What the inspector will check

Records

The inspector may need to check some records during the visit to confirm management activities. You may also need to show the inspector any permissions or consents you have obtained, in order to carry out your agreement.

For capital items claimed, you will need to show the inspector:

  • evidence of when you purchased materials and where you installed them - to confirm this is within the terms of your agreement
  • invoices, receipts and bank records relevant to purchased items - to confirm you paid for them before you submitted your claim

Options

The inspector will:

  • walk the land you have under agreement
  • record observations to check you are managing the options as specified in your agreement
  • take measurements of options or mapping changes using GPS devices or a tape measure for small lengths of options
  • take photographs to support their observations

The inspector will discuss their measurements with you:

  • when they take them, if you accompany them
  • at the end of the visit, during the review of their observations

Capital items

The inspector will check capital items are to specification and in appropriate locations.

Besides checks made before payment, some capital items have an ‘ex-post’ obligation. This means the inspector may have to check previously claimed items to make sure that:

  • you still own these items
  • you’re using them for the purposes for which you were awarded funding

Your agreement will give the number of years these items must be maintained for.

Review of inspector’s findings

At the end of the inspection or environmental outcome site visit, the inspector will review their findings with you to make sure they are accurate. The inspector will do this at the end of their visit or arrange a convenient time for a telephone call. It’s important you attend the review.

The review will cover any:

  • differences between your agreement requirements and what the inspector found during the inspection or environmental outcome site visit
  • mapping updates needed to the Rural Payments service, such as changes in boundaries or undeclared ineligible features
  • cross compliance breaches

If you are concerned about any of the inspector’s findings:

  • they may be able to go back to the feature with you to explain their observations
  • you have the opportunity to discuss them
  • the inspector can record any concerns or comments you may have, on the inspection or environmental outcome site visit report form

For EU agreements the inspector cannot discuss the effect of their findings on your agreement or claims.

For CS domestic agreements, there will be a more open discussion on the effect of the inspector’s findings and they will provide guidance, support and sign posting to more information, where required.

Follow up visit

An RPA Inspector may visit again to check seasonal options that could not be seen during the first inspection or environmental outcome site visit.

Inspector’s report

We will send you a copy of the inspector’s report once they have completed any checks and updated mapping changes needed to the Rural Payments service.

Results

We will write to you to confirm the final results once we have considered the inspector’s report.

The results may include:

  • encouraging you to adopt different management practices to help meet your agreement’s requirements
  • a reduction to your payment
  • a penalty if you have not complied with the terms of your agreement (this will only apply to EU agreements)

You should not try to draw any conclusions about the results of the inspection or environmental outcome site visit before you receive it.

You may have to repay all or part of a grant you have already received. We will explain the reasons for recovering some of your payment.

Your inspection or environmental outcome site visit may result in changes to other land-based payments you claim, such as the Basic Payment Scheme, forestry and other agri-environment schemes.

We aim to complete the inspection or environmental outcome site visit quickly so that we can make your balance payment for the year.

For queries about managing your CS or ES agreement contact RPA.

Contact RPA

Contact RPA

Email ruralpayments@defra.gov.uk

Helpline 03000 200 301

Published 28 June 2018
Last updated 25 May 2021 + show all updates
  1. Page updated with additional information about Countryside Stewardship domestic agreement inspections

  2. References to Natural England changed to RPA where appropriate. Contact details changed to RPA. Links updated so they link to the CS and ES collection pages on GOV.UK.

  3. First published.