Rural Funding

On this page you can find information about the programmes that offer advice and funding for the care of heritage in rural settings.

Rural Development Programme for England

The Rural Development Programme for England 2014-2020 (RDPE) is jointly funded by the European Union, through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and the Government.

The RDPE funds projects to improve agriculture, the environment and rural life through schemes which:

  • Improve the environment
  • Strengthen the rural economy
  • Increase the productivity of farming and forestry

The RDPE has four main elements:

  • Countryside Stewardship
  • Countryside Productivity
  • Growth Programme

The main funding streams for the rural historic environment are Countryside Stewardship and LEADER, but all these four elements provide potential funding for adapting and re-using redundant buildings for commercial community purposes, including for tourism-related activities.

LEADER and the historic environment

LEADER is a European Commission initiative to support the development of rural areas across the European Union (EU).

First introduced in 1991 as a funding programme, LEADER is now adopted as a community-based approach to deliver measures within the wider RDPE and offers a range of opportunities for local groups to identify and care for their heritage including:

  • Encouraging tourism activities
  • Village renewal and conservation
  • The upgrading of rural heritage

Other sources of LEADER information include:

The Rural Development Programme for England 2014–2020 
The LEADER approach in the RDPE National Delivery Framework

Countryside Stewardship and the historic environment 2015-2020

Countryside Stewardship replaces the previous agri-environmental scheme, Environmental Stewardship (which closed in 2014) and provides incentives for land managers to look after the environment.

It is open to all eligible farmers, woodland owners, foresters and other land managers through a competitive application process. It is one of the main contributors to meeting the Government's targets for Heritage at Risk.

The main priority for Countryside Stewardship is to protect and enhance the natural environment, particularly the diversity of wildlife (biodiversity). Water quality is another important priority, and climate change is an over-arching priority.

The scheme will also help to improve:

  • The historic environment  including the protection and enhancement of historic and archaeological features, including non-domestic traditional rural buildings
  • Landscape character
  • Flood management
  • Genetic conservation
  • Educational access

The scheme is run by Natural England and the Forestry Commission on behalf of Defra, and the Rural Payments Agency manage claims and payments. Both Historic England and local authority historic environment staff provide advice on the Scheme to Defra and its agencies in relation to heritage. The scheme is voluntary and competitive; farmers and land-owners have to choose to enter into an agreement.

There are three main elements within Countryside Stewardship:

  • Higher Tier – five year agreements for environmentally significant sites, commons and woodlands with complex management needs
  • Mid Tier – five year agreements for environmental improvements in the wider countryside
  • Capital grants – one- to two-year grants for specific capital works

In exceptional cases five year agreements may be extended in order to achieve relevant environmental objectives. There is a common menu of 244 options which farmers can choose from to manage their land (such as “the creation of grassland for target features”) within which there is a number of options designed especially to help manage the historic environment (such as “scrub control on historic and archaeological features”).

There are a number of detailed conditions relating to the historic environment and agreement land. These include metal detecting on agri-environment land.


Historic England and our colleagues in local government advise on the Countryside Stewardship Scheme using a number of tools. The Selected Heritage Inventory for Natural England (SHINE) is one of them. It's a joint project between Natural England, the Association of local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO) and Historic England. Find out more about SHINE

COSMIC: Conservation of Scheduled Monuments in Cultivation

We  also continue to work together with Natural England to identify and prioritise Scheduled Monuments at risk of damage or loss from arable farming. The  COSMIC toolkit will give farmers and heritage managers realistic options for managing the archaeology so that they can either avoid or reduce negative effects of cultivation.  You can download the report about the COSMIC project findings

Further information about Countryside Stewardship can be found in its manuals:
Countryside Stewardship: Mid Tier 
Countryside Stewardship: Higher Tier manual

Related publications

Whilst some parts of the publications below may now be out-of-date, Historic England believes that they still contain useful advice, guidance and case studies for farm advisers and heritage managers. All of these land types and sites may be managed under Countryside Stewardship:

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