Guidance

Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship inspection

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

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) inspects a percentage of agreements each year on behalf of Natural England. The inspections check agreement holders are meeting the schemes’ terms and conditions.

Who gets inspected

RPA chooses some agreements using risk-based criteria and the rest at random. Natural England will tell you how your agreement was selected on the inspection report form.

RPA will try to combine visits if you have more than one Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) agreement or have claimed other RDPE grants and subsidies.

Prepare for inspection

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

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’ve submitted

Each option in your agreement gives details of the management activities you need to carry out. You must keep records to show your management activity for each option.

For some options, you 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

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

There are specific requirements for livestock record keeping in:

The inspection visit

The time the inspection takes depends on the size of your farm and your agreement.

The RPA inspector will:

  • confirm the agreement they’re inspecting
  • give a schedule for the inspection and estimate how long it will take
  • explain what they’re going to check
  • tell you what evidence and records they’ll need to see
  • check your agreement options and any capital items that form part of your agreement
  • check records, invoices and other evidence
  • check if there are changes to boundaries or ineligible features
  • check the requirements set out in the scheme handbook and relevant cross compliance requirements
  • 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.

Inspectors cannot make judgements or give advice about your agreement. If you have questions about your agreement contact Natural England.

Checking records

The inspector will check your records against their observations during the visit to cconfirm the records are accurate. You’ll also need to show the inspector any permissions or consents you’ve obtained to carry out your agreement.

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

  • evidence of when you purchased and where you installed them - to check this happened during your agreement period
  • invoices and bank records relevant to buying items - to check you paid for them before you submitted your claim

Checking options

The inspector will:

  • walk the land you have under agreement
  • record observations to check you’re managing the options as specified in your agreement
  • take measurements 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 go with them
  • at the end of the visit, during the review of their observations

Checking 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 has to check:

  • you still own these items
  • you’re using them for the purposes for which Natural England 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 the inspector will review their findings with you to make sure they’re 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 covers:

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

If you’re 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
  • you can record concerns or comments on the inspection report form

The inspector cannot discuss the effect of their observations on your agreement or claims.

Follow up visit

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

Inspector’s report

Natural England will send you a copy of the inspector’s report once RPA have completed any mapping changes needed to Rural Payments.

Outcome

Natural England will write to you to confirm the final outcome once it has considered the inspector’s report.

The outcome 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

You should not try to draw any conclusions about the outcome of the inspection before you receive it.

You may have to repay grant you’ve already received. Natural England will explain the reasons for recovering some of your payment.

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

RPA and Natural England aim to complete the inspection quickly so that Natural England can make your balance payment for the year.

Contact

For queries about managing your CS or ES agreement contact:

Countryside Stewardship Delivery Services, Natural England
Email: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk
Phone: 020 8026 1089

Published 28 June 2018