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Financial guidelines for supporting the management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Natura 2000 sites

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Financial guidelines for supporting the management of Sites of Special Scientific Interest Natura 2000 sites

Section 2: Support for the voluntary management of SSSIs and Natura sites

2.1 This section provides brief guidance explaining how managers of SSSIs and Natura sites can obtain financial support for work which secures the effective conservation management of protected sites, by entering into voluntary agreements with public authorities. A number of potential options exist and these are described below.

Natural Care

2.2 The Scottish Ministers consider it appropriate that financial incentives should be available to the managers of protected areas, and of other areas of the countryside where this is appropriate, to maintain or enhance key features of our natural heritage.

23 These payments, to be delivered through the Natural Care strategy, will support the delivery of the favourable management that these special interests require. In line with Nature of Scotland principles, payments will not be made simply to compensate for the cessation of management that may be harmful to protected sites.

2.4 A key objective of the Natural Care strategy is to make a major contribution to the target of ensuring SSSI features are in favourable condition. It will do this by bringing the majority of the SSSI network into assured management arrangements which are designed to help secure the effective conservation of the special features for which sites have been notified.

2.5 This will be achieved through the collective contributions of SNH management agreements and the other incentives available to the managers of SSSIs, notably via the Scottish Forestry Grants Scheme ("SFGS") and the Rural Stewardship Scheme ("RSS"). It is estimated that around 85-90% of the network requires some form of active management that can be supported through these arrangements. The remainder of the SSSI network is not believed to require financial support in this way because, for instance, it consists of intertidal areas owned by the Crown or because it consists of robust geological formations.

2.6 In other cases, the nature or level of funding that is appropriate will vary. For instance:

  • Some SSSIs and Natura sites may be damaged because they are not managed in accordance with recognised standards of good land management practice. Land managers are expected to comply with such standards that are relevant to their operations and with the requirements of any other regulatory regime or code of practice. The taxpayer cannot be expected to pay farmers and other land managers simply to stop doing things they ought not to have been doing in the first place.

  • There are inevitably constraints on the availability of public funding, and within those constraints public authorities may have to decide on the relative priority of different cases for the funding of SSSI and Natura site management. Some SSSIs and Natura sites are maintained in good condition through existing, economically sustainable, management practices.

2.7 The objectives of the Natural Care Strategy are four-fold:

  • to avoid deterioration of, and to secure improvements in, the condition of SSSIs through arrangements that can assure their positive management,

  • to foster the pride and commitment of land managers in the positive management of SSSIs and other conservation interests through direct rewards, and by drawing on their own knowledge and skills in land management through their active involvement in the development of management schemes,

  • to broaden and improve access to support for land management that benefits the natural heritage, through a combination of additional resources and more effective integration of available incentives, and

  • to establish conservation of the natural heritage as a legitimate output of rural development through the delivery of social and economic benefits to the people of Scotland.

2.8 The Natural Care strategy sets out how the increased resources now available will be used to significantly increase the availability of management agreements to the managers of SSSIs. It also sets out the context and priorities for SNH's expanding Natural Care programme, which will be implemented principally through the use of "management schemes". These are based on voluntary agreements with land managers, under which a standard rate of payment will be offered in particular parts of the country for particular activities which safeguard or enhance the conservation interest of SSSIs.

2.9 SNH's management schemes under Natural Care are intended to be non-competitive - if a land manager meets the requirements specified in the scheme, SNH will make the payments which the scheme provides for. They will be relatively simple, generic schemes developed in consultation with land managers so that they offer prescriptions and payment rates that are appropriate to local land use and economic conditions rather than being developed at the national level. Land managers can decide whether or not to enter into a management scheme, depending on whether or not they judge this to be in their interest.

2.10 In the circumstances where SNH considers that a management scheme is not appropriate, it will still be able to enter into individually-negotiated voluntary management agreements with land managers.

2.11 Priorities for SNH support under the Natural Care strategy include:

for Natura sites

  • where features are deteriorating or suffering significant disturbance,

  • where there is a likelihood or a risk of deterioration or of significant disturbance,

  • where there is a legal obligation to restore the site (degraded raised bogs only), or

  • where current management is essential to maintain the qualifying features and there may be a risk of modification or cessation of this management.

for SSSIs

  • SSSIs in urgent need of positive management to avoid deterioration or loss of their nature conservation interest where such management can reasonably be expected to avoid this deterioration or loss, and

  • sites where improving the management of the SSSI interest can also achieve Biodiversity Action Plan targets.

2.12 Detailed rules governing SNH's power to offer management agreements are set out in Annex A to these Guidelines. These apply not only to agreements under a Natural Care management scheme, and to individually-negotiated agreements for the management of SSSIs and Natura sites, but will also apply in the case of agreements designed to secure the management of the natural heritage in the wider countryside.

2.13 Contact details for further information on the Natural Care strategy, including applications for assistance, are set out in Annex C to these Guidelines.

Co-financed schemes under the Scotland Rural Development Plan

2.14 The Natural Care strategy will be delivered through schemes funded and administered by SNH or other public authorities either alone or, where there is clear benefit in such arrangements, in partnership with others. It is important that land managers agree on natural heritage objectives and consider how good stewardship can best be achieved through the opportunities available.

2.15 The relationship between the Scotland Rural Development Plan ("RDP") schemes that support environmental outputs from rural land and SNH's Natural Care schemes and management agreements is a complex and evolving one.

2.16 The two principal schemes co-financed by the EC under the Scotland RDP, which are of particular relevance to SSSIs, are the RSS and the SFGS, together with the SFGS: Farmland Premium. Whilst there is considerable overlap of objectives and coverage, SNH's Natural Care schemes and agreements will seek to complement these other schemes in terms of the overall resources available, in order to support the management of SSSIs. SNH's schemes may encourage application to an RDP scheme. A flexible approach will be encouraged in such cases.

? Rural Stewardship Scheme

2.17 This scheme is designed to encourage farmers, crofters and common grazings committees to adopt environmentally friendly practices and to maintain and enhance particular habitats and landscape features. The RSS supports biodiversity-friendly agricultural management in the interests of wildlife and habitats, including birdlife, species-rich pasture, moorland, wetland, peatland and woodland/scrub on agricultural land.

2.18 Entry to the RSS is competitive, and occupiers of agricultural land in any part of Scotland (not just SSSIs and Natura sites) may apply. Applications are assessed on the basis of a ranking system which gives weight to the environmental and other benefits which would be secured by the project. Within this ranking system, applications which benefit Natura sites or SSSIs attract extra points.

2.19 Contact details for further information on RSS assistance are set out in Annex C.

? Scottish Forestry Grants Scheme

2.20 The SFGS, administered by the Forestry Commission Scotland ("FCS"), and the SFGS: Farmland Premium are focused on delivering the priorities of the Scottish Executive's Scottish Forestry Strategy, Forests for Scotland11.

2.21 The aim of SFGS, and SFGS: Farmland Premium is, "to encourage the creation and management of woods and forests, in order to provide economic, environmental and social benefits for now and the future". SNH's Natural Care programme is seen as the main mechanism for achieving positive management of SSSIs and Natura sites, but SFGS plays an important role in relation to woodland habitats and will be the principal source of funding in this context. In specific circumstances, complementary funding to the SFGS may be available through SNH under the Natural Care programme.

2.22 Under the SFGS, Stewardship Grants are payable to contribute towards the cost of work which will significantly improve the economic, ecological or social value of woodland. In the case of woodland SSSIs and Natura sites, eligible work will attract the higher rate of grant that currently contributes 90% of approved standard costs. Work relating to woodland SSSIs and Natura sites is eligible for this higher rate of grant where the purpose is to:

  • improve the ecological value of native woodlands, through work related to native woodland Habitat Action Plans,

  • improve the environmental value of woods and forests through work related to Biodiversity Action Plans (Habitat Action Plans, Species Action Plans and Local Biodiversity Action Plans) and designated sites or species listed in the schedules of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 ("the 1981 Act") 12 or the Habitats Directive 13,

  • improve the economic, ecological and social value of woods and forests by encouraging more use of alternative systems to clear-felling, where this is practical and appropriate, and

  • improve the economic and ecological value of woods and forests by reducing deer numbers.

2.23 In addition to the financial support provided by the SFGS, compliance with the UK Forestry Standard will continue to be a condition of any SFGS approval. These conditions include the protection of designated conservation sites such as SSSIs, as well as the maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity as part of the implementation of the UK Biodiversity Action Plans.

2.24 Contact details for further information on SFGS assistance are set out in Annex C.

Which scheme should a land manager seek funding from?

2.25 Land managers may wish to seek their own professional advice about the sources of funding which can best support their aspirations for the management of their land. The funding agencies in Scotland will observe the following principles:

  • If a project on a protected area clearly falls within the scope of a non-SNH scheme (eg RSS or SFGS) SNH may ask the land manager to make an application to one of these schemes before it offers to enter into a management agreement.

  • If a project falls within the scope of a non-SNH scheme, but the land manager and SNH are of the view that it does not appear to be likely to be a successful candidate for funding under either of these schemes, SNH may offer a management agreement without any preconditions about prior application to another scheme. Discussion between the land manager, SNH, SEERAD and FCS may be appropriate to establish, in particular cases, which funding mechanism is the most likely to be able to support the appropriate management of the area and whether a combination of funding from different sources is appropriate.

  • When SNH offers to fund management activities which could fall within the scope of a non-SNH scheme it may do so at a different rate of payment from the other scheme. In some cases this rate may be lower, for example, where a nationally-calculated rate of payment under another scheme exceeds the costs of particular projects in particular places. In other cases, SNH may offer a higher rate of payment, for example, where nationally-calculated rates under non-SNH schemes do not cover the costs of proposed management action in a particular place and circumstances, and do not provide a sufficient incentive for land managers to enter into contracts to manage the land in a way which will benefit its SSSI interest.

Future developments

2.26 Policy on support for environmentally-sustainable land use is under continuing development. In particular, the Scottish Ministers are examining how the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy can contribute to the development of a new system of Land Management Contracts to support farm businesses in the delivery of a range of the economic, social and environmental benefits. It is expected that the first steps towards implementation of Land Management Contracts will be taken during the course of 2005.

2.27 It should be noted that all land within the Single Farm Payment system will be subjected to Cross Compliance conditions - including both Statutory Managements Requirements (SMR) and Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition ("GAEC").