Natural England - 3-Tier HLS Process - Frequently Asked Questions

3-Tier HLS Process - Frequently Asked Questions

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The 3-Tier HLS process

Fast-track tier

The HLS proactive approach and HLS pipelines

Farm Environment Plans (FEPs)

Other questions


What is the 3-Tier HLS process?

All HLS applications will be assigned to one of three tiers depending on the complexity of application. The three tiers are:

  • Fast track – Suitable for holdings where only one Natural England visit is required. The Farm Environment Plan (FEP) is produced by Natural England.

  • Standard – Suitable for all other holdings and where a maximum of two visits by a Natural England adviser is required. The FEP is produced by FEP surveyors and/or third party agents.

  • Complex – Suitable for the most complex holdings. Complex cases may require up to four Natural England adviser visits. The FEP is produced by FEP surveyors and/or third party agents.

Why is the 3-tier HLS process being introduced?

The process is being introduced following a review of HLS delivery and feedback from customers. It allows us to deliver the right level of advice/support to applicants in line with the complexity of the application. It ensures quicker application preparation and processing timescales. Holdings that meet the ‘Fast-track’ criteria will benefit from an earlier start date and contact with a Natural England adviser throughout the application process.

How will the 3-Tier HLS process affect my application?

Applicants with 2011/12 agreement start dates:

  • If you have received confirmation that your agreement will have a start date during 2011/12 and you have already engaged an agent to carry out the FEP, then your application will be processed as a standard application under the current HLS process.

  • If you have received confirmation that your agreement will have a start date during 2011/12 but you have not yet engaged an agent to carry out the FEP, then your application will be processed under the 3-Tier process. Your Natural England adviser will contact you to confirm which tier your application will be processed under.

Applicants with 2012/13 agreement start dates:

  • If you have received confirmation that your agreement will have a start date during 2012/13 your application will be processed under the 3-Tier Process. Your Natural England adviser will contact you to confirm which tier your application will be processed under.

  • If you have a Countryside Stewardship Scheme(CSS) or Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Scheme Agreement which ends in April 2012 and have received confirmation of an offer of an HLS agreement, then your Natural England adviser will contact you to confirm which tier your application will be processed under.

Does this change HLS?

HLS remains unchanged. What is changing is the HLS application process. Natural England will continue to approach potential applicants and the scheme remains competitive, discretionary and targeted.

The 3-Tier Process

How is a Tier allocated to a holding?

We will use a set of criteria to assess every holding being considered for HLS and identify the most suitable processing tier. This is summarised in the Holding Complexity Decision Tree: (67kb)pdf document. We will discuss the criteria with you and confirm the processing tier for your holding. Once agreed the processing tier won’t change, so if you’re identified as a ‘Fast-track’ application you won’t be asked to produce a FEP.

Can I appeal against the Tier which has been allocated?

No, this will be determined by the research we carry out and the discussions which take place at the Pipeline Clinics.

Are the Holdings Complexity Criteria published?

The Holding Complexity Criteria: (162kb)pdf document are published online and summarised in the Holding Complexity Decision Tree: (67kb)pdf document.

Will tier information be made available to interested land owners and agents/FEP surveyors?

Agents/FEP surveyors will be able to assess the likely HLS processing tier for a holding by using the Holding Complexity Decision Tree: (67kb)pdf document. Farmers/agents will still need to contact a Natural England adviser to discuss the holding before making an application. We will confirm the processing tier with you in writing.

Fast-track tier

Can I employ an agent to provide advice or review the options in my Fast-track application?

You can still seek guidance from agents on your Fast-track application, but Natural England will not meet the cost of employing an agent (and there will be no FEP payment), so you will have to bear any costs incurred in full.

What is the target number of HLS applications for the Fast-track tier?

There is no target. Analysis of previous HLS applications suggests that approximately 30% of HLS applications could be Fast-track, 50% Standard and 20% Complex. We have agreed with Defra that no more than 30% of applications will be processed as Fast-track.

What happens if the Fast-track farm visit fails to identify that a holding has protected species (e.g. great crested newts)?

The application tier will remain the same, but we will carry out additional visits to ensure that the appropriate management is put in place.

How will my existing ELS agreement be incorporated into my Fast-track HLS application?

We will review the existing ELS agreement before a visit to make sure it is compatible with the HLS agreement. We will discuss with you if your existing ELS is likely to be very different in a combined ELS/HLS agreement.

The HLS proactive approach and HLS pipelines

What is the HLS proactive approach and what are HLS pipelines?

Natural England prioritises holdings for inclusion in HLS based on their environmental features and their potential to deliver environmental outcomes. The list of priority holdings for each Natural England team area is called the HLS pipeline. Each holding on the pipeline is assigned to an adviser who is responsible for delivering the agreement.

Can agents/farmers influence which holdings are included in the HLS pipelines?

Natural England has a proactive approach,but if you are interested in an HLS agreement, you can register that interest by calling us on 0300 060 0011 or via an agent. Natural England advisers will assess cases and if there is sufficient evidence, these holdings can be added to the HLS pipeline. Due to the competitive nature and high demand for HLS, we will prioritise holdings within the HLS pipeline (or notify you that ELS is more suitable). If a holding is added to the HLS pipeline the agreement start date may be some time in the future depending on the potential environmental outcomes.

We will hold Pipelining Clinics, which will offer all FEP agents the opportunity to discuss potential HLS cases and set expectations for the following delivery year.

What are HLS Pipeline Clinics and who will attend?

HLS Pipeline Clinics will offer agents/FEP agents who complete FEPs and HLS applications the opportunity to discuss potential HLS applications and set expectations for the following delivery year. The clinics have been agreed with our stakeholders and will be held every year. Applicants must complete a form: (59kb)pdf document to authorise an agent to act on their behalf at the pipeline clinic – this must be sent to Natural England. Applicants will not be involved, unless they are completing their own FEP.

How will HLS Pipeline Clinics be advertised?

Pipeline Clinics will be advertised in the media and on our Agent internet pages.

Will stakeholders/partners be invited to HLS Pipeline Clinics?

No, stakeholders/partners will not be involved in these clinics unless they are directly representing a client in discussing the potential of their holding for HLS. Stakeholders will continue to be involved in the HLS process, providing advice and consultation where required, including site visits where we need specialist advice.

Could the HLS Pipeline Clinic be completed over the telephone or via e-mail?

Yes, the information may be discussed with an authorised agent over the telephone and/or transferred via email.

What information will agents need to submit to Nature England before an HLS Pipeline Clinic?

A completed Holdings Detail Form: (84kb)excel spreadsheet and a signed Agent Authorisation Form: (59kb)pdf document for each client/holding to be discussed.

Can agents charge for their time for attending the HLS Pipeline Clinics?

This is a business decision for agents, but they cannot charge Natural England.

Farm Environment Plans (FEPs)

Will Natural England still be providing applicants with a copy of the FEP agents register?

Yes, if applicants approach us directly and do not already have an agent then we will supply the customer with a list of all known FEP surveyors working in that area with the capacity to deliver additional HLS agreements.

Will written approval to carry out a FEP still be required for Standard and Complex cases?


Do I have to employ the same agent for my FEP and HLS application?

No, you can employ one agent to carry out your FEP survey (if required) and may employ a different agent for your HLS application.

What information will Natural England share with my agent / FEP surveyor?

We will only disclose data that relates to the future management of the holding. No personal or financial information will be disclosed as this is protected under the Data Protection Act 1998. The authorisation for an agent to act as your FEP surveyor is in addition to the form required to authorise an agent: (59kb)pdf document to act on your behalf at the Pipeline clinic.

Can the FEP payment be paid earlier on in the process?

EU payment restrictions and computer systems means it can only be paid at a certain point. The quicker turnaround times will mean that FEP payments will be made and received in a more timely manner.

Will archaeology units be able to meet the Historic Environment Record (HER) targets for Fast-track?

The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO) have signed a Service Level Agreement which includes turnaround times. They will not be paid if they do not respond within 20 working days for Fast-track Historic Environment Record (HER) requests.

Has the content of the HER consultation changed for Fast-track?

For Fast-track applications only the HER consultation has been simplified with more information in the pack, including copies of maps of known features and proposed options provided by Natural England.

Who requests and pays for the HER consultation for Fast-track applications?

The Historic Environment Record (HER) consultation request form will be completed by the Natural England adviser for you to sign and send to the local authority. You will have to meet the cost of the HER consultation – Natural England will not make any payment to you or the local authority towards the cost of this unless your holding includes land designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Please refer to the HLS FEP Manual for more information on the HER consultation costs.

Is the simplified HER payment arrangement and mechanism just for Fast-track?


Will the current turnaround time for HERs for Standard and Complex applications be enforced?

There is no mechanism for enforcing these currently.

Other questions

Can I bring forward or delay the start date of my new agreement to make the payment schedule more favourable in light of the changes to the ES payment dates?

HLS agreements have monthly start dates, throughout the year and you can choose your preferred start date. Your Natural England adviser will agree with you the preferred start date and the application submission deadline to achieve this date. Due to the high demand and competitive nature of the scheme you are advised to submit your application by the agreed date in order to avoid disappointment. For further information please see the guidance on changes to payment timings.

What happens if a holding was approved for a FEP prior to the 3-Tier process but the holding now meets the Fast-track criteria?

There will be a transition period, where holdings are identified as Fast-track and have previously had their FEP approved by Natural England. These will continue to be delivered by the FEP surveyor, Natural England will not complete the FEP and application.

What happens to my ‘Fast-track’ application if I have additional land which is not registered on the Rural Land Register?

Any land to be entered into an Environmental Stewardship agreement needs to be registered on the Rural Land Register (RLR) before an application pack can be generated. If land is not registered on the RLR it can still be a fast-track application but the agreement start date will be delayed. Your Natural England adviser will check the RLR status of your land and confirm that the land is registered before an application is generated. If during the application process land ‘disappears’ from the RLR we will work with you to get the land reinstated and minimise the delay to your application.

I have a classic scheme agreement (ESA or Countryside Stewardship) that expires in 2011/12. Can I go ahead with my HLS application and will I be guaranteed an agreement?

HLS is a competitive scheme and agreements are not guaranteed. Suitability for HLS is assessed against a target area statement and the potential environmental benefits which the holding has to offer towards delivery of those targets. The HLS Pipeline process is used to determine whether a classic agreement should be followed by an HLS agreement. A Natural England adviser will be in contact to discuss renewal options with you. The aim is to have your new agreement (HLS or ELS) start when your existing agreement(s) expire(s), therefore ensuring continuity in management.

Are Natural England advisers more likely to favour land-based environmental options in preference to options for traditional farm buildings?

Every ELS/HLS is negotiated individually to achieve best environmental outcome value for money.