Environmental Land Management Scheme and Trials

Environmental Land Management Scheme and Trials

Introduction

Over 70% of the UK’s land is farmed in some way – so how this land is managed has a big impact on wildlife. A thriving natural environment underpins our ability to grow food into the future, but the decline of wildlife in the countryside threatens this. The recovery of wildlife in the UK depends on a farming policy which enables farmers to create and restore natural habitats alongside food production.

For more than forty years, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has dictated how we farm, and over this time we have seen devastating declines in wildlife across the UK.  For five years landowners have benefitted from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), a cash payment based on the area of land they own.  Alongside this landowners have been able to apply for Countryside Stewardship which pays landowners to undertake on-farm work that provide environmental benefits.  Whilst a lot of good work has been delivered through Countryside Stewardship (and its predecessors) it has also been criticised for not providing the benefits hoped for.  It is considered to be too heavily regulated and bureaucratic, deterring people from entering into schemes. 

With our departure from the EU there is an opportunity to redesign agricultural policies to allow us to meet our environmental ambitions, while supporting our farming sector. The new Agriculture Bill signals a huge opportunity for better policies to support farmers to produce food for our country whist creating healthier soils, vibrant wetlands and the other things that nature gives us for free. The move away from CAP, will bring us to the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme which is based on the principle of ‘public money for public goods’. This aims to put English farmers in the best position possible to meet the objectives of protecting the environment and producing food.

The ELM scheme and is due to come into effect in 2024, with the Basic Payment Scheme will start to be wound back in 2021 with payments dropping annually over 6 years to give time for landowners to adapt.  Countryside Stewardship will continue for some time to provide overlap and continuity initially.  During this time Defra also plan to make Countryside Stewardship simpler and more flexible.  Defra are also looking at other potential grants that might be available during the transition period. 

The ELM scheme will provide farmers, foresters and other land managers with an opportunity to secure financial reward in return for delivering environmental benefits. ELM will be a powerful vehicle for achieving the goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan, and ensure there is a strong mechanism for addressing and averting the environmental crisis. The ELM scheme will focus on payments for these public goods:

  • clean and plentiful water
  • clean air
  • protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards
  • mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
  • thriving plants and wildlife
  • beauty, heritage and engagement

Whilst the ELM scheme is still in development, Defra have released information about current thinking of the scheme design, and a key part of this is the three tiered system:

  • Tier one would encourage farmers to adopt environmentally sustainable farming and forestry practices,
  • Tier two would encourage farmers, foresters and other land managers to focus on delivering locally-targeted environmental outcomes.
  •  Tier three would pay for larger-scale, transformational projects – such as restoring peatland.

Under the ELM scheme, farmers will be paid for work that enhances the environment, such as tree or hedge planting, river management to mitigate flooding, or creating or restoring habitats for wildlife. Farmers will therefore have an opportunity to be at the forefront of reversing environmental declines and tackling climate change as they reshape the future of farming in the 21st century.

Farmed landscape with grazing sheep in foreground and yellow fields sloping above

WildNet - Zsuzsanna Bird

The Wildlife Trusts’ ELMs trial

The recovery of wildlife in the UK – one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world – depends on an efficient and effective ELM scheme, which will enables farmers to create and restore natural habitats.

In order to inform the design and ambition of the ELM scheme, to support nature’s recovery, a consortium of five Wildlife Trusts (Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Hampshire and Isle of Wight, Herefordshire and Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trusts) are leading one of Defra’s funded ELM scheme trials. The project was initially meant to run between October 2019 and June 2021 but this has now been extended to December 2021 due to the impact of Coronavirus.

All five Trust’s already provide farm advice, and it is our ambition to use this experience to influence the development of the future ELM scheme to support the six public goods listed in the 25 year plan, ‘Particularly Thriving Plants and Wildlife’. Through this trial we will be working with 100 landowners and farmers across five counties, to help shape the design and operation of this new scheme for Tier 1 applications. We will be co-designing 100 whole farm plans, that will enable simple spatial mapping of public goods (e.g., soil, water and biodiversity improvements), and identification of where goods can be created or enhanced. The trial will also include essential business planning, so farmers are able to make informed financial decisions on the most appropriate public goods that their land can deliver.

Involving farmers and land owners in the early stages of the ELM scheme is essential for it to succeed, evidenced by the poor uptake of the current Countryside Stewardship scheme. Thus our trial focuses very much on giving farmers and landowners the opportunity to co-design and provide input into the development of the whole farm plans. Those involved in our trial will also receive data, maps and advice that will support their future management decisions and prepare them for the changes that ELMS will bring.

There are a number of key steps to the project:

  • Through one to one questionnaires we have asked for farmers’ experiences of past agri-environment schemes or sought to understand the barriers and challenges to entering a scheme if they haven’t previously taken part in a scheme.
  • We have been working on producing initial template farm plans that takes account of existing public goods being delivered on a farm and establish opportunities to deliver more.  The plans aim to be mainly mapped based.
  • Using the emerging farm plan templates, each Trust will now engage with 10 landowners initially, on a one-to-one basis, to test the templates and produce farm plans, all the while recording feedback from the landowners and recording experiences.
  • Following feedback we will use the test to update the templates before each Trust trialling it with a further 10 landowners. Following feedback final versions will be prepared.
  • Finally, the outputs of the trial will be submitted to Defra along with a report about the process and feedback gained from engaging with the landowners

This trial is innovative in approach, combining the farmer or land owner’s ambitions with the role the farm plays as part of the wider landscape informed by the landscape-scale priorities set out for wildlife in local Nature Recovery Networks. By the end of the project we will have developed and prepared a series of farm plans but also, importantly the Wildlife Trust’s and local farmers will have had the opportunity to mould the future of the ELM scheme and how it could be delivered. 

For more information, or to join the trial, please contact Herefordshire Wildlife Trust's Conservation Senior Manager Andrew Nixon: a.nixon@herefordshirewt.co.uk