Farmers in England to be paid for nature restoration and creation from 2023
The UK Government has confirmed plans to pay farmers and landowners for restoring biodiversity from 2023, as part of its post-Brexit changes to agricultural policy.
The Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has today (6 January) confirmed that the Local Nature Recovery scheme – an incentive scheme that forms part of the UK’s post-Brexit Agriculture Bill – will be trialled in 2023 and rolled out nationally in 2024.
Under the scheme, farmers will be paid for actions that boost biodiversity. Approved activities will include tree planting and other habitat creation – like hedgerow planting or wildflower or wildgrass meadow creation – as well as peatland and wetland restoration.
This scheme is intended to contribute to the Agriculture Bill’s promise to prevent farmers from being financially incentivized to over-produce at the expense of the environment.
The announcement on the Local Nature Recovery scheme follows Defra’s confirmation last month of the structure of the Basic Payment scheme. That framework will see farmers paid annually for conserving land. Many green groups and trade bodies had been hoping for higher payments and for more clarity on all new schemes at the same time.
Also being announced today is Defra’s opening of applications for the first round of funding under the new Landscape Recovery scheme. First announced last summer, the scheme will support landowners and land managers to deliver “more radical changes to land-use and habitat restoration”, financing large-scale products such as floodplain and wetland restoration and woodland creation.
Up to 15 projects will receive a share of Defra funding under the first round of the scheme. Eligible projects will need to either already be underway or be set to commence by 2024, and they will need to take place on sites between 500 and 5,000 connected hectares. Defra is aiming for its landscape-scale investment to match farm-level investment and local investment by 2028.
Defra claims that, collectively, its proposed schemes will bring up to 60% of England’s agricultural soil under sustainable management by 2030 and restore up to 300,000 hectares of habitat by 2042. These achievements – if realised – would feed into long-term commitments to improve nature for the next generation and halt species decline by 2030.
Environment Secretary George Eustice will speak about the schemes at the Oxford Farming Conference this week, where he is expected to emphasise the Government’s direct work with farmers.
A statement released by Eustice ahead of his appearance says: “We want to see profitable farming businesses producing nutritious food, underpinning a growing rural economy, where nature is recovering and people have better access to it.
“Through our new schemes, we are going to work with farmers and land managers to halt the decline in species, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, increase woodland, improve water and air quality and create more space for nature.
“We are building these schemes together, and we are already working with over 3,000 farmers across the sector to test and trial our future approach. Farmers will be able to choose which scheme or combination of schemes works best for their business, and we will support them to do so.”
Green economy reaction
Responding to Defra’s announcements, the Country Land and Business Association’s (CLA) president Mark Tufnell called them “an important point in the future development of England’s agriculture policy”.
Tuffnell said: “Both the Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes have the potential to be transformative and bring England closer towards the Government’s environmental goals.
“The schemes clearly indicate that the wants and needs of farmers and landowners have been heard by Government. But this is just the beginning of a highly ambitious and progressive plan. The real work now begins on delivering these schemes successfully. Most importantly, it is incumbent of Government to ensure greater detail is shared on how this transition to the new schemes will be carried out.”
A joint statement from the Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and RSPB also implores Defra to provide more details on how the schemes will work, including eligibility criteria and how the Government will measure outcomes.
The statement also expresses disappointment at the Government’s plans to allow each farmer to “choose the best option for their business”, in case choices are made that ultimately undermine the outcomes of long-term policy visions including the 25-Year Environment Plan
The Wildlife Trusts’ chief executive Craig Bennett said: “The real test of this agricultural transition is not so much whether it is a little bit better or moderately better than what came before, but whether it will be enough to deliver on the Government’s targets to get 30% of land managed for nature by 2030, to halt the loss of wild species abundance by 2030, to deliver on the Government’s own 25-year environment plan, and to make sure farmers are supported so that they help solve rather than worsen the nature and climate crises.
“Anything less than that means that this historic opportunity will have been wasted.
“While we’re hearing the right noises from Government, the devil will be in the detail and the detail is still not published nearly six years after the EU referendum.”
Elsewhere, WWF’s chief executive Tanya Steele emphasised the importance of linking nature, economics and climate in agricultural policymaking. She said:
“Supporting farmers to reduce agricultural emissions significantly is the right vision. “The UK Government now needs to put in place legally binding strategies and plans for reducing emissions from agriculture and land use which ensure farmers in England reap the maximum benefits of shifting to a net-zero, nature-positive farming system and help build resilience into our food systems.
“This is a unique opportunity to rethink how we manage our green and pleasant landscapes to boost farming communities, restore nature and slash greenhouse gas emissions and we need ambitious targets and bold policies to make it happen.”
To mark the New Year 2022, edie has this week published a round-up of seven major UK green policy developments to watch in the coming months. Read it in full here.
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