Piloting Defra's Landscape Recovery scheme - an update

CLA Senior Land Use Adviser Harry Greenfield looks into the third, and most ambitious of the ELM schemes so far: Landscape Recovery

As CLA members will be aware, three new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes are being developed by Defra in England to replace the old Common Agricultural Policy schemes (BPS and Countryside Stewardship).

The Sustainable Farming Incentive is being piloted this year (see briefing here: https://www.cla.org.uk/advice/sustainable-farming-incentive-offer-2022/) and I will be writing an update about the Local Nature Recovery (LNR) scheme in due course. This blog gives the latest information about the third, and most ambitious, of the schemes: Landscape Recovery.

Landscape Recovery (LR) aims to deliver large-scale, long-term, land use change projects, with a focus on restoring ecosystems. The scheme will pay to restore or create wildlife habitats that help sequester carbon and boost wildlife, as well as providing many other benefits. Woodlands, wetlands, meadows and peatland could all fit the bill.

Defra are looking to pilot 10 LR projects between 2022 and 2024, for sites between 500 and 5000 hectares. Applications can come from landowners or land managers as well as collaborative groups and partnerships with other organisations.

A series of webinars hosted by Defra in recent weeks gave some more detail on the scheme, and a chance to ask questions about how it will work ahead of piloting next year. The webinars have been recorded and are available here: https://defrafarming.blog.gov.uk/2021/08/05/learn-more-about-the-landscape-recovery-scheme/

Unlike other ELM schemes, LR will have agreements tailor-made to each project. This seems a sensible approach, given the time, size and amount of funding involved in these projects, it would be difficult to design a one-size-fits-all approach.

In order to arrive at a suitable agreement, Defra are also prepared to invest in significant project development funding. The initial application will be relatively simple, sketching out the plan for the project, for example what land will be included, who will be involved and what the overall objectives. If successful, Defra will then fund the project to develop more details, for example how to monitor the environmental, the nature of the contract, and business or legal advice that may be needed.

Defra have said they would prefer to sign LR agreements with a single party, rather than multiple agreements with landowners in the same collaborative project. This will mean finding a way to create a single legal entity that can enter into the agreement with Defra. This is a sign of the level of commitment LR will require but funding will be available for legal advice on the best governance systems for the project.

LR will not be for everyone. Agreements will be long-term (20+ years) and the types of activity funded mean that LR is less suitable for members who want to continue productive agriculture on the land. For this reason, the CLA is wary of spending a third of the budget on LR, as Defra have indicated. At least during the agricultural transition, funding should be directed at improving the sustainability of agriculture and building on the success of previous agri-enviroment schemes, as the LNR scheme will do.

But there is still a place for Landscape Recovery to fund those large scale, ambitious environmental projects that will help us deal with the climate and ecological emergency that we face. The CLA is lobbying to make sure the scheme is accessible to land managers, not just environmental professionals. Members who have an idea for this sort of transformative land use change, and are willing to dedicate land towards it, should consider applying when the application window opens later this year.