29th September 2022

The future of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) has been much in the news this week. This is a suite of three sub schemes which will replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and current system of payments to farmers and land managers. 

Defra together with a whole host of organisations and individuals has been working on designing the ELMS scheme for the last five years. Instead of paying farmers for simply owning or tenanting land, it will pay for benefits that are provided for the public, such as wildlife habitats, sequestering carbon, access, water and soil health, and so on and would represent the biggest shake up of agricultural policy for 40 years. 

However, rumours abounded earlier in the week that Defra was reviewing the scheme and that it may go back on its commitments to the environment. The NFU said the ELMS scheme was not fit for purpose and should be halted until improvements were made. Their President stated: "We have always been calling for a better policy, one that does deliver for food production and for the environment." Many environmental organisations responded angrily to the suggestion that the scheme could be delayed or scaled back.

The Government has responded and stated that it does not intend to go back on its commitment to the environment. “As set out in the Growth Plan, we will be looking at the frameworks for regulation, innovation and investment that impact farmers and land managers, to make sure that our policies are best placed to both boost food production and protect the environment. This includes looking at how best to deliver the Environmental Land Management schemes to see where and how improvements can be made, and we will continue to work closely with the sector to ensure these are designed and delivered in their best interests. We’re not scrapping the schemes. In light of the pressures farmers are facing as a result of the current global economic situation, including spikes in input costs, it’s only right that we look at how best to deliver the schemes to see where and how improvements can be made. Boosting food production and strengthening resilience and sustainability come alongside, not instead of, protecting and enhancing our natural environment, and later this year we will set out more details of plans on how we will increase food security while strengthening the resilience and role of farmers as stewards of the British countryside”.

These are fine words by the Government. However, there has already been a reversal of the fracking moratorium and environmental organisations are concerned about a lack of commitment to the environment and climate change. We unfortunately have a nature crisis, a climate crisis and in our uplands a farmer crisis (less farmers, increasing age, loss of skills and labour). The ELMS scheme has been in development for some years, with Defra using some new techniques to inform this, such as tests and trials on farms, and advisory groups where proposals have been shared with farmers and others and their feedback sought. This is all positive. But, these are incredibly unsettling times for farmers and land managers. The Basic Payment Scheme is being fazed out in 2027 and there is still no clear information on exactly what will be funded, what the payment levels will be, and what the requirements of schemes will be. Input costs are rising at an alarming rate and quick decisions are having to be made in a vacuum. This means it remains impossible for farmers to plan ahead and decide their future plans. These are also difficult times for nature and our climate and we need action sooner rather than later.  Any further delay in scheme development will only compound all these problems and in turn delay farmers taking action that will help nature and landscape recovery as well as their farm business.

Friends of the Lake District firmly believes that our farmers can produce healthy food, a healthy landscape and contribute to sustainable communities. But, they must be supported by realistic payments, schemes that are deliverable on the ground and reward them for producing public benefits, a good advisory services and more information about schemes must be released as a matter of urgency.