GLAS is an agri-environment climate measure under the Rural Development Programme 2014 to 2020. Its aim is to deliver environmental benefits which will protect and enhance our biodiversity and water quality and raise awareness of and encourage actions which mitigate the effects of climate change. The scheme contains actions which will deliver the expected environmental dividends and is the result of widespread consultation with stakeholders and protracted negotiations with the European Commission.
GLAS is a voluntary scheme in which participants elect to carry out specific environmental commitments. In order for a verifiable benefit to be achieved, the governing regulations require that these commitments must be delivered for a minimum of five years. There is a wide range of actions to choose from in GLAS, providing scope for farmers across all types of farming system to submit applications and maximise their payment under the scheme. Some 25,800 farmers are actively participating in tranche 1 of GLAS, of whom 22,300 were eligible for a part year payment for three months in 2015. A further 11,500 farmers have been approved in tranche 2.
GLAS is structured along three distinct tiers, with priority entry for farmers in tier 1, namely, those with priority environmental assets such as farmland bird habitats, commonages and high status water areas, followed by tier 2, with tier 3 farmers being allocated places last. While the unprecedented level of applications under the scheme is in line with forecasts made by my Department, it has meant that for GLAS 2, priority had to be given to tier 1 and tier 2 candidates, namely, those who either manage key environmental assets such as endangered birds, protected habitats or high quality watercourses, or who have committed to undertake particularly valuable environmental actions such as growing feed crops for wild birds, adopting low impact tillage techniques or using low emission slurry spreading methods. Farmers had been urged to present the highest standard environmental plans under GLAS 2 and adopt actions that would promote them from tier 3 to a higher tier, thereby significantly increasing the chance of selection. More than 80% of applicants in the second tranche of GLAS opted to do so and, with the funding available, they were approved.
Under the general scheme, a maximum payment ceiling of €5,000 per annum applies, but in the case of exceptional environmental commitments a participant may qualify for payment up to €7,000 under GLAS plus. Applicants do not select distinct actions to qualify for GLAS plus. The increased payments available under this measure are automatically applied where the annual cost for a farmer of addressing a combination of tier 1 priority environmental assets, PEAs, exceeds €5,000. Farmers managing bird priority environmental assets can qualify for GLAS plus on the strength of their bird PEA alone, without the need for any other PEA, provided they manage an area of habitat sufficient to draw the additional payment. The number of GLAS plus applicants will only become apparent when applications are finalised and have been fully costed.
This is the first full payment year for GLAS 1 and GLAS 2 and the first instalment of the 2016 payments to the 38,000 approved GLAS 1 and GLAS 2 farmers are due to start issuing towards the end of the year when all validation checks have been completed. While the current average payment per participant is €4,600, no definitive information on the average payment will be available until all payments are made.