The new agri-environment scheme GLAS opened on March 2nd and there is mixed news for water protection. Despite a variety of documents having been released by DAFM, the details of how the scheme will work are far from clear. SWAN will look into this in more detail in the coming months. The following is an outline and first response based on available information.

The importance of High Status Waterbodies (HSWs) has been recognised by giving farms with HSWs priority access to the scheme but funding is capped at €5,000/farm/year (with a possible €2,000 supplement). Watercourse fencing is mandatory for dairy and beef farms with HSWs, which is good, but nutrient input restrictions are unclear and low emission slurry spreading is optional. Another class of water body also qualifies for funded measures: ‘Vulnerable status water sites’. However, I have been unable to ascertain from DAFM what these are in relation to WFD status.

Level of funding & participation

The level of funding is slightly down on REPS: A total fund of €1.45bn is allocated to GLAS over its lifetime; this equates to an average annual budget of €241.7m/yr. over the 6 years from 2015 to 2020, which is just 6% below the average annual REPS budget of €257.4m between 2000-2011.1

The significant weakness is that there is an annual maximum cap of €5,000 per farm (with a potential €2,000 top-up for farms eligible for GLAS+) which REPS did not have and this may not offer sufficient incentive to some farmers to participate (although it is estimated that 30,000 farmers with participate this year).

Deadline

The April 30 deadline has been heavily criticised as it gave just eight weeks for farmers and planners to submit plans for a possible 30,000 farmers. Clearly this will not lead to best planning for the environment. It now appears that there may be an extension but this isn’t confirmed2.

STRUCTURE OF THE SCHEME

GLAS is structured as a ‘package’ and offers a maximum payment of €5,000 per applicant per full calendar year, except where GLAS+ applies3. It is tiered so that farmers with Tier 1 ‘ Priority Environmental Assets’ get first priority access to the Scheme; those with Tier 2 getting next priority and Tier 3 the least. The tiered structure and associated actions for GLAS is set out in the DAFM document here and summarised in the table overleaf.

1 This is calculated from the DAFM REPS Factsheet 2011 available here
2 Read more on this in this article in Agriland
3 It is unclear how farmers qualify for GLAS+. The terms & conditions document says “Some farmers undertaking particularly challenging actions may qualify” for the GLAS+ top up payment of up to €2,000/yr and “Typically GLAS+ will apply where the Priority Environmental Assets on the farm require the farmer to deliver a particularly high level of environmental commitment.”

Table 1. Summary tiered structure of GLAS

Tier 1 is the most important Tier, comprising of all the Priority Environmental Assets identified for support through GLAS, targeting vulnerable landscapes (including commonages), important bird-species and protection of high-status watercourses.

Tier 2 is the next most important tier and focuses on water-quality, through protection of predetermined vulnerable water-courses, while also accepting proposals from other farmers who are prepared to take on predetermined actions again targeting climate change mitigation and supporting farmland birds.

Tier 3 comprises a menu of complementary environmental actions for applicants approved into Tiers 1 and 2, as well as a channel for entry to the Scheme in its own right. It includes actions such as the protection of traditional hay meadows, provision riparian margins, arable margins & low input pastures.

WATER PROTECTION PROVISIONS

Nutrient Management Planning is one of four core management requirements which all GLAS farms have to meet4 but the details and requirements of this are not yet available and may not be sufficiently restrictive in terms of nitrogen & phosphorous inputs to protect waters. There are then a number of measures that are specifically targeted at water protection:

Tier 1 & 2 priority measures
1. Protection of Watercourses from Bovines

This is mandatory for applicants in high status water sites and/or vulnerable status water sites who must select this action. All watercourses (but not lakes) must be fenced a minimum of 1.5 metres from the top of the bank of the watercourse to exclude bovines. The fencing must be stockproof & drinking points are not permitted. (An alternative water supply must be provided).

2. Low Emission Slurry Spreading

This is not mandatory for any farm but is one of four mandatory measures from which farmers must choose one –

  • for priority tier 1 access if they have livestock at a stocking rate >140kgN/kg/ha
  • for tier 2 access if they have livestock at a stocking rate <140kgN/kg/ha

TIER 3 ‘general actions’: Least likelihood of securing funding if applications are competitive

3. Riparian Margins

Farmers must establish a 3, 6, 10 or 30 metre riparian margin by fencing it off, with increasing payments for wider margins. Livestock are not permitted to graze the margin.

4. Arable Grass Margins

Where these are established along watercourses they can provide a buffer to intercept sediments and nutrients. Farmers must establish a 3, 4 or 6 metre grass margin along the full length of a LPIS parcel or field boundary.

5. Low Input Permanent Pasture

This measure is targeted more at biodiversity but may also have a benefit in terms of lessening nutrient run-off risk to water. Maximum chemical nitrogen usage is 40 kg N per ha per annum. Pesticides are not permitted, except for spot treatment of noxious & invasive weeds and rushes. Supplementary feeding may take place, provided troughs are moved to avoid poaching.

4 The others are: 1) The use of An approved agricultural planner to prepare the GLAS application; 2) Training in environmental practices and standards; 3) Record keeping of actions delivered