Update 2nd December 2020

A path to sustainable farming?

On 30th November the Government released its 'Path to Sustainable Farming' paper, setting out its ideas on the transition period for land management for 2021 – 2024 (summary at Farming is Changing (publishing.service.gov.uk). This sets out more detail on the phased reductions in the Basic Payment Scheme and the new funds which will be available for land owners and managers going forward.

The key scheme, Environmental Land Management, will pay landowners and managers for providing public benefits, a principle we have long welcomed. It will consist of three components:

  • the Sustainable Farming Incentive, which will support approaches to farm husbandry that deliver for the environment, such as actions to improve soil health, hedgerows and integrated pest management,
  • Local Nature Recovery, which will pay for actions such as creating, managing or restoring habitats, natural flood management and species management,
  • Landscape Recovery, which will focus on landscape and ecosystem recovery through projects looking to achieve large-scale forest and woodland creation, peatland restoration, or the creation and restoration of coastal habitats, such as wetlands and salt marsh.

Other elements of particular interest to us include :

  • Farmers in Protected Landscapes

From 2021, funding will be available through the Protected Landscapes bodies to support farmers, particularly upland farmers (75% of whom live and work in Protected Landscapes). The funding will be for farmers and other land managers to make improvements to the natural environment, cultural heritage and public access on their land. It will fund:

  1. a) Farm-level projects to diversify incomes and prepare for Environmental Land Management
  2. b) Wider infrastructure and projects on farmland, to support farmers and rural economies
  • Tree Health

A new Tree Health scheme will be launched in 2024. This will replace the Countryside Stewardship Woodland Capital Tree Health Restoration and Improvement grants. A pilot will run in 2021 to feed into the scheme design. This will include support for felling and the treatment of diseased trees in certain situations and restocking following felling.

  • Woodland creation and support
  • There are several schemes available for increasing, protecting and managing trees, forests and woodlands which already exist and will continue.

There are other welcome parts relating to new entrants, innovation and research, advice, investment in technology, etc.

The new schemes will have a fundamental impact on how land is managed in future and we hope provide more incentives for landscape enhancement, nature recovery and climate change mitigation. In terms of our own land, we will have to wait for further details to come out and see how it all fits together going forward.

The documents released give specific detail for the first time on the level of reductions in the Basic Payment Scheme over the next seven years (50% by the end of 2024). For the majority of upland farmers, this forms around 65% of their incomes. The crucial detail that is lacking in the documents is what the payment levels will be for the new schemes, many of which will not be fully available until after 2024. The period between now and 2024 will see a suite of pilot schemes run which wil inform the design of the final schemes.

Along with many other organisations we have expressed concern about a potential four year funding gap until many of the new schemes are mainstreamed. Farmers and land owners are now in an impossible situation – they know how much their income will be reduced over the next four to seven years, but they are powerless to plan for the future as there is a crucial lack of detail on the new schemes. Unless they know how much they will be paid for providing public goods, they cannot plan what options are best for their businesses. This is very worrying for our upland farmers as many are already very marginal. Four years of reduced funding could be the death knell for many of them.

21st July 2020

Defra asked for views on a discussion document outlining a little more detail about the proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELM), in February but paused the consultation. Discussion about the scheme, in which farmers will be paid for work which enhances the environment, replacing the schemes currently available under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), has now been re-started and we have given our response.

Read our response here.

Read more about the consultation on the Government website here.