A Simple Guide to the New Environmental Land Management Schemes
In England, the government’s new plans for land management funding, announced in Dec 2021 and Jan 2022, are split into 3 levels.
Local and Sustainable levels will apply to the vast majority of farmers, while Landscape only applies to landowners wishing to change their entire farming system.
Local Nature Recovery
From 2023, Local Nature Recovery (LNR) schemes will begin to replace the existing Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS), but on a more ambitious scale, with full roll-out in 2024. As with the CSS, this scheme provides funding for work that sits alongside food production, rather than funding farming itself. Examples of projects include restoring peatland areas or adding extra trees to hedgerows and fields.
This scheme is designed to be more relevant to the local environment than CSS; for example providing sand dune restoration grants in coastal locations. Farmers will be able to apply for both the Sustainable Farming Incentive (see below) and LNR, provided that the government is not paying twice for the same action. Farms are expected to be allowed to combine funds from public and private sources, which will encourage the growth of carbon trading and biodiversity credits.
LNR will be open to farmers, foresters and other land managers, with common land eligible where there is a single entity that can enter into the agreement. When it kicks off, LNR will fund work on the following core areas (rates will be announced later this year):
- Improving biodiversity on arable farms
- Improvement and maintenance of grassland
- Improvement and maintenance of wetland
- Improvement and maintenance of lowland heath
- Improvement and maintenance of sand dunes, salt marsh and shingle
- Improvement and maintenance of peatland and moorland
- Improvement and maintenance of woodland and orchards
- Measures to promote recovery and reintroduction of target species
- Flood management and river edge improvement measures
From 2022, Landscape Recovery schemes are a new initiative for plots 500-5000ha in size, which will initially run in a pilot phase with up to 15 projects until 2024. The scheme effectively subsidises a new style of farming in the UK – environmental land management for the public benefit. These rewilding projects will focus on restoring river systems and/or recovering the populations of native species.
Unlike other schemes, there will not be set rates, but rather, the government will negotiate funds for each project with the landowner. Some concerns have been raised about job losses, as large landowners may wish to remove tenant farmers, so that they can reduce land maintenance costs when the farm becomes part of an LR scheme.
Sustainable Farming Incentive
The Sustainable Farming Incentive (announced in Dec 2021) is expected to be taken up by 70% of farms by 2028, administered by the Rural Payments Agency. All farmers enrolled in the Basic Payment Scheme (a sort of Universal Credit system for farms) will be eligible for SFI, but they may trial it on a per-field basis. The agreements are more flexible than previous schemes, with 3 year contracts that can be amended every 12 months. Tenant farmers must have a minimum of 2 years remaining on their lease to enter into an SFI contract, but do not need to prove they have their landlord’s permission.
Payments will be made every three months, starting three months after the beginning of the contract – an improvement upon the previous annual payment scheme. Farmers can simultaneously qualify for SFI and private environmental stewardship financing, e.g. carbon credits, although this situation will be reviewed in 2023. The scheme as a whole will be split into three sections:
Under the Arable and Horticultural Soils standard, rates will be paid to encourage:
- Stubble or green cover on winter fields
- Addition of organic matter to soils
- No-tillage farming (future measure)
The Improve Grassland Soils standard encourages:
- At least 95% green cover on fields over winter
- Sowing or maintaining herbal leys, which enrich soils and provide flowers for pollinators
The Moorland and Rough Grazing standard is currently in an introductory phase, and simply involves recording the properties of any land which might in future qualify for funding under this scheme.
If you would like to read more about the details of any of the above schemes, these can be found on the government’s website (links below). However, it’s worth mentioning that details (e.g. rates) are lacking for the Local- and Landscape-level schemes at present.
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