The Countryside Stewardship Scheme was originally an agri-environment scheme run by the United Kingdom Government set up in 1991. In its original form it expired in 2014. It was relaunched for the Rural Development Programme England (RDPE) 2014-2020 with £3.1bn of government subsidy for agriculture and forestry, replacing the previous Environmental Stewardship scheme.
Forestry Commission and Natural England will jointly delivery Countryside Stewardship. Natural England will broadly lead on the set up and delivery of transactional services for Countryside Stewardship for the first year of the new scheme.
In its first guise introduced as a five-year pilot project by the Countryside Commission in 1991, the scheme aimed to improve the environmental value of farmland throughout England. The administration of the scheme was taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) on 1 April 1996, and the scheme expanded to include new landscapes and features, including whole farm plans for restoring and recreating traditional walls and ditches, wildlife corridors in arable areas using uncropped margins in arable fields (with management to benefit associated wild flowers and birds), traditional buildings, and old meadows and pastures (important for maintaining and increasing biodiversity). In the meantime, the scheme was incorporated under the umbrella of the European Community's 'agri-environment’ programme which aims to protect the environment and the countryside through the promotion of green farming practices, which enabled grants to be part-funded through the Community. The scheme was incorporated into the England Rural Development Programme on 1 January 2000.
In 2005, there were 16,636 agreement holders with 531,280 hectares under agreement.
The Countryside Stewardship Scheme closed to new applications in 2004 with the introduction of the Environmental stewardship (England) Scheme. Existing agreements continue to be honoured; the last agreements will expire in 2014. The scheme is currently administered by staff at Natural England.