At the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month, Environment Secretary George Eustice made a series of announcements about further development of the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes. This came hot on the heels of the announcement at the end of last year at the CLA’s Rural Business Conference, which gave more detail about the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).
This time, the update was on the other two ELM schemes: Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery, as well as some information about the overall objectives and outcomes that Defra wants to see the ELM schemes deliver.
Local Nature Recovery
Increasingly, the Local Nature Recovery (LNR) scheme is being presented as evolution and improvement of the existing Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme. Like CS, it will be based on a series of land management options, which farmers and land managers will be able to pick and choose from.
Many of these options will be locally targeted, based on the newly-created Local Nature Recovery Strategies, which are being developed this year. Defra’s new document giving further detail on the LNR scheme (available here), lists a range of themes that will be included, such as creating space for wildlife on farms, managing and restoring grassland, wetland, heathland and coastal habitats and targeted action for specific wildlife species and habitats. There will also be options for woodland, including agroforestry, and water, such as riparian buffers and flood plain restoration.
Many of these activities are already funded through CS, and the focus of the next 12 months will be to develop the detail of each option, setting out how it will be delivered and the payment rate. The CLA will be closely involved in this work, and any member who has feedback on specific improvements they would like to see from the current scheme should get in touch with us.
LNR will also move beyond CS in several areas, including encouraging more collaboration between land managers, involving farmers and land managers in determining local environmental priorities and allowing the combination of public and private funding for environmental management.
Defra will publish the full list of LNR options and payment rates later this year, with a view to a small pilot in 2023 and a full roll-out of the scheme in 2024.
The third ELM scheme is the most ambitious: Landscape Recovery (LR). I discussed this in detail in a blog last year and this recent announcement from largely builds on what was said then. The scheme focuses on large-scale projects that almost certainly involve land use change – such as woodland or wetland creation or restoration.
The LR scheme will be piloted over the next three years, with the aim that the pilot projects alone lead to 20,000ha of restored wildlife habitat. Applications will open soon for pilots for projects between 500 and 5000ha. More information on the scheme is available here.
ELM scheme outcomes
The final document published last week (available here) was an overview of the outcomes for climate and nature that Defra hopes the ELM schemes will achieve. From a policy and lobbying perspective, this is important information. Since it was first announced by Michael Gove, there has been a tendency for the ELM scheme to be seen as all things to all people. Every interest group and sector hopes that ELM will provide the funding injection they desire – whether that’s regenerative farmers, public access groups, conservationists or rewilders. Setting out clear, measurable targets helps make it clear what ELM will pay for. It will allow the CLA to hold the government to account, ensuring that the design of the scheme works to deliver these targets.
There are a range of outcomes mentioned, some new and some already mentioned by the government elsewhere. They include:
- 60% of England’s agricultural soil under sustainable management through our schemes by 2030.
- decarbonise agricultural emissions by up to a total of 6 MtCO2e per annum in Carbon Budget 6 (2033-2037) in England.
- treble woodland creation rates in England.
- restore and maintain up to 200,000 hectares of peatland in England by 2050.
- create or restore up to 300,000 hectares of habitat by 2042, and bring over half our Sites of Special Scientific Interest into favourable condition by 2042.
- contribute to cleaner waterways and the restoration of rivers, lakes and other freshwater habitats.
These are ambitious targets that will require a high level of uptake of the scheme by farmers and land managers, targeted delivery of specific environmental options and high-quality delivery on the ground. It will also require continued funding into ELM to meet these targets.
Review of Countryside Stewardship payment rates
Finally, there has also been a review of payment rates for the existing Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme, the precursor to LNR. This is something the CLA has long been calling for, so it is great to see the government come through. You can see the full changes here.
On average, payment rates have increased by 30%, though the change is different for different CS options, and some have actually gone down. The good news is that those in existing schemes will benefit from the new higher rates but will not see any decrease in payments. For new agreements the new payment rates will apply across the board. You can see some helpful analysis from Farmers Weekly of who will benefit most from these changes here.
The rises only apply to revenue payments, not capital items, but this is still a good win for the CLA. It will make the scheme even more attractive, and we continue to encourage members to consider entering it when the application window opens next month. CS can provide a guaranteed income for the next five years and will be a helpful stepping stone to ELM.
2022 will be a crucial year for the transition to ELM: the SFI scheme will be available to farmers this year as will pilots for Landscape Recovery. Meanwhile, the CLA will be working hard behind the scenes to hammer out the detail of the LNR scheme, which has been described as the core of ELM.
Keep an eye out for future updates, and I encourage you to try and come to the CLA’s Agriculture Transition Roadshows in the coming weeks, which will help you to navigate the upcoming changes. To find out when the roadshows will be taking place in your region, please visit the events page of the CLA website.
For anyone who wants to be more involved in the policy development of the new schemes, please get in touch with me as I am always keen to hear more valuable feedback from CLA members to support my discussions with Defra.