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Environmental land management schemes details announced

Defra has released further details of the three environmental land management schemes being introduced to improve the environment and protect the countryside; The Sustainable Farming Incentive; Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery.

I referred to these in my latest Western Morning News piece in December 2021 in which I looked back on 2021 and thoughts on the key themes for 2022. To read, click here.

Here is a timeline covering the above and various other Defra schemes and there is a Defra blog post that gives more detail on the timings and how the environmental land management schemes interact.

Below outlines some of the detail on the environmental land management schemes. We will continue to update this blog as we know more.

Summary Farmers will be rewarded for environmental land management such as as water quality, biodiversity, animal health and welfare and climate change mitigation
Eligibility The SFI scheme is to launch in 2022 and anyone currently under the BPS will be eligible
Operation SFI will operate at a land parcel (field) level. This means that farmers can choose how many of their fields to enter into SFI standards – they do not have to enter their whole farm.
Agreements Farmers do not have enter their whole farm and can choose how many fields to enter. There is some flexibility to amend this every 12 months from the start date
Timings An SFI application window will be open in 2022 for at least 10 weeks, allowing for the first payments to be made by the end of the year
SFI on offer in 2022 For SFI 2022, farmers will be rewarded to protect soils with three standards being available:

  • The Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard
  • The Improved Grassland Soils Standard
  • The Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard (introductory level)

Details on standards and payment rates can be found via the link below and I have commented on these in my recent blog.

Defra will also pay for an annual health and welfare review for livestock (more details at link below).

More details Can be found here
Summary The scheme is seen as the improved successor to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) and will reward farmers who take actions to drive nature in the farmed landscape and the wider countryside. Through the scheme, farmers will be able to contribute to climate change, improving air and water quality, net zero and many other national priorities.
Themes The scheme will initially focus on managing:

  • feeding, shelter and breeding areas for wildlife on arable farms
  • and restoring and creating grassland, wetland and coastal habitats
  • and restoring areas of upland and lowland peat and moorland on farms and the countryside
  • targeted measures to reintroduce certain wildlife species
  • and creating trees and woodlands
  • nature-based solutions for water
  • and restoring rivers, flood plains, streams and riparian habitats
Scheme open to Farmers, foresters and other land managers who can deliver the required actions on their land
Interaction with SFI It will complement the Sustainable Farming Incentive enabling farmers to enter both schemes, although you cannot be rewarded twice for the same activities
Timings A pilot scheme will be available to a limited number of people in 2023 before the scheme is rolled out to the whole country by the end of 2024.
More details Can be found here
Summary The Landscape Recovery scheme will be available to landowners and land managers who want to deliver large scale projects to restore nature on their land (500-5,000 hectacres)
Themes The first round of the scheme will focus on the following projects:

  • recover and restore England’s threatened species
  • restore England’s streams and rivers
Round open to Individuals or collaborative groups (such as those who have land joined in some way)
Timings The first round of up to 15 Landscape Recovery pilot projects will be open for applications shortly.

There will be at least two rounds over the next two years.

Interaction with SFI and Local Nature Recovery Landscape Recovery will complement the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Local Nature Recovery
More details Can be found here
Next steps Sign up to the Defra e-alert or subscribe to their Future Farming blog to be notified of when the first round of the Landscape Recovery pilot applications opens

As I have written before, it is clearly the Sustainable Funding Initiative (SFI) that will be the most applicable to the majority of South West farmers. By design, this is more akin to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme or Entry Level and Higher Level Schemes that many have entered into in the past and should prove a relatively low barrier to achieving some environmental gains for which the farmer is rewarded. However, it is up to the individual to judge which schemes provide potential value to them and look at the costs that might need to be incurred to receive the funding.

The other schemes, however, are very different to what we have seen before and for now I will largely hold counsel as to whether or not they will be effective in achieving the environmental outcomes desired by Defra and be considered to work for the farming community.

A key point to note for the Landscape Recovery programme, and to a lesser extent the Local Nature Recovery, is that the size of the projects will necessitate far greater collaboration between farmers and land owners. Defra quote “nature does not stop at farm boundaries and joining up nature wherever possible is crucial to its recovery…When people work together, they can achieve substantial socio-economic benefits and higher quality and better-connected environmental outcomes”.

The above may well be correct, but collaboration for many farmers perhaps doesn’t come naturally and will require some major changes to mindset.

At the very least this will need some kind of facilitation in order to get people to work together. I have seen a number of examples be it; machinery rings, staff sharing, land pooling or TB culling areas where despite best efforts, difficulties have arisen or opinions differed.

With the average sized family farm livestock farm in the South West being considerably smaller than arable equivalents in other parts of the country, the numbers of farmers needing to collaborate is likely to be larger, potentially making the projects more difficult to instigate from a practical perspective. Hopefully this will be taken into account to allow the whole country to best benefit.

We will wait to hear more of the details as they are announced over the forthcoming months.

FEATURING: Brian Harvey
As head of PKF Francis Clark’s agricultural sector group, Brian manages a dedicated team of agricultural accountants and tax advisers. He hails from a Cornish… read more
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