The Environmental Improvement Plan - what is it and why it is important?

How the governments plan for the environment impacts farmers and land managers in England
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The Environment Improvement Plan 2023 (EIP23) for England was announced by the government this week. It sets out the key policies, funding and incentives for the environment, all of which are crucial for many CLA members as they will play an important role in the delivery of the targets - mostly through changes in land use and management.

The plan

Due to be published every five years, this is the first update following the original 25 Year Environment Plan, which was circulated in 2018. The long-term environmental targets for EIP23 were released in December 2022, but the latest document sets out the proposals that underpin these targets. The EIP23 also includes interim targets for 2028 and details of the government policies to support the changes.

The EIP23 sets out how England will:

  1. Ensure thriving plants and wildlife
  2. Enhance environmental quality (clean air, clean water, managing chemicals and pesticides)
  3. Improve the use of resources (minimise waste and use natural resources sustainably)
  4. Help mitigate the impacts of climate change (adapting to climate change challenges and reducing environmental hazards)
  5. Improve biosecurity
  6. Enhance beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment

The EIP23 reiterates the government’s legal obligations under the Environment Act 2021, including plans to protect 30% of our land and sea by 2030, rolling out Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) in April 2023 and a mandatory 10% Biodiversity Net Gain for development starting in November 2023.

The EIP23 confirms that the government will publish a Land Use Framework, a Green Finance Strategy and the third National Adaptation Programme on the UK’s climate resilience.

Key targets for land managers

As well as improvements to the environment, the EIP23 also presents targets for food production and other land uses in rural areas. To achieve these, significant changes to farming practices will be required. Some of the key targets for farmers and land managers include:

Increased public funds through farming schemes

The EIP23 sets out a goal for 70% of agricultural land, and 70% of farm holdings, to be part of a farming scheme by 2028. It also sets out that 65-80% of landowners and farmers will adopt nature-friendly farming on at least 10-15% of their land by 2030.

To achieve this, the EIP23 confirms the government’s introduction of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes and a one-year extension of the Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) programme, with an additional £10m in funding.

Expansion of wildlife-rich habitats

Central to the EIP23 is creating, restoring, and extending habitats for plans and wildlife through new designations and changes to farmed environments. Farmers and land managers will therefore be expected to significantly contribute to wildlife targets. These include:

- Creating or restoring 30,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2050.

- Helping to bring at least 50% of protected sites into favourable condition by 2042.

- Restoring or creating the new interim target of including 34,000 hectares of tree canopy and woodland outside of protected areas by 31 January 2028.

- ELMs programmes, such as future Landscape Recovery projects, must help to deliver a target of 70 new areas for wildlife.

Using resources sustainably

The EIP23 sets out a vision for using the UK’s finite natural resources more sustainably. As such, there will be incentives farmers and land managers to improve soil health, restore peatland and establish and restore woodlands and forests. To achieve this, at least 40% of England’s agricultural soil will need to be put into sustainable management by 2028, and then increase to 60% by 2030.

Air pollution, water, chemicals and pesticides

As a measure to lower air pollution, the agricultural sector will be required to reduce ammonia emissions. The EIP23 commits to £13m in slurry infrastructure for 2023, alongside an intention to extend this funding in the future.

There are ambitious targets to reduce levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution in waterways from agricultural practices. Interim objectives aim for a 10% reduction by 31 January 2028 and a 15% reduction for catchments that contain protected sites in unfavourable condition due to nutrient pollution.

Farmers and land managers will be required to transition to an Integrated Pest Management approach, utilising nature to tackle pests and reducing reliance on manufactured pesticides.

Key takeaways

The contents of the EIP23 have come as no surprise to the CLA as many of the proposals outlined in the plan have already been put in place. The interim targets will be useful benchmarks to make progress and demonstrate the many areas of opportunity for environmental innovation and cross-sector collaboration. However, they must be accompanied by supportive policies that allow land managers time and incentives to support nature on their land.

The achievement of the government’s targets is contingent upon farmers and land managers. The recognition that improving the environment in the long-term is essential and should help boost funding from both the public and private sectors. In addition to environmental farming schemes, we hope to see investment in improved infrastructure and technology for the agricultural sector.

The CLA has been working on many of the areas covered by the EIP23. We have campaigned to establish vital funding for the rural economy and increase the payments for ELMs. We are pleased to see that through this plan at least, the government has been listening.

Five-year environmental plan set out by UK Government

Read CLA President Mark Tufnell's view