Environmental Land Management Schemes: What does the future hold?

Following on from the announcement of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme for 2022 in December 2021, January 2022 saw a limited degree of further clarification on the new subsidy regime, collectively known as “Environmental land management schemes” (ELMS).

Countryside Stewardship Scheme

Firstly, it was confirmed that the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) will remain in place until 2023, with the final round of new CSS schemes running from January 2024. The existing combination of higher tier, mid-tier, wildlife and capital funding programmes will continue, and there will be a review of the payment rates taking effect from January 2022.

The average increase will be about 30%, but there will be winners and losers so, for example, basic overwintered stubble will drop from £84 to £51/Ha, but permanent low input grassland in Severely Disadvantaged Areas (SDA) will increase from £16 to £71/Ha. For those who want something beyond (or as well as) SFI, CSS will remain an option in the medium term, with new agreements lasting until the end of the decade.

Local Nature Recovery

The bigger announcements also made in January, are much less specific. The second tier of ELMS will be “Local Nature Recovery” (LNR)). This was announced as a “more ambitious successor” to CSS and pilot projects will be introduced in 2023 with a full rollout from January 2025.

From what one can see, it will be similar to CSS using a basket of options with the objectives of, e.g. improving water and air quality, helping flood management and building resilience to climate change. In practice it will encourage, for example, managing restoring and building wildlife environments, grassland, heathland coastal and wetland habitats and restoring and managing rivers and water bodies.

Aside from these broad aspirations, there is little detail and no costings, although one might guess that individual options will be paid at around the new rates applicable to similar CSS options. It is confirmed that SFI and LNR can both be claimed on the same land parcels, subject, of course, to the usual prohibition of duplicate funding.

Landscape Recovery Scheme

The third leg in the ELMS package is the Landscape Recovery (LR) Scheme. This element has received quite extensive press coverage since it might cover the practice of “rewilding” which then raises the philosophical issue of conflict between environmental benefit and food production.

LR will be focused on habitat recovery and restoration. The recent paper does not specifically talk about habitat creation, although it does “expect Landscape Recovery pilot projects alone will create at least 20,000ha of wilder landscapes, habitats, rewetted peat and afforestation at a landscape scale,” so perhaps habitat creation is implicit. The scheme will run with two rounds of pilot projects over the next two years aimed primarily at helping native species and restoring streams, rivers and water bodies.

The projects will be delivered on a large scale (500-5000Ha) so are unlikely to impact on individual farms other than in a cooperative environment. Unlike SFI and LNR, entry to LR schemes will be competitive, based on criteria covering, amongst other aspects, longevity, environmental benefits, carbon and climate resilience, social impact, public access, community engagement– and of course cost.

Our opinion

According to MHA agricultural manager Yvonne Coulston: “The absence of detail on the larger schemes should not deter clients from exploring the possibilities of those currently available – i.e. SFI and CSS. We are already seeing the reductions in basic payment working through, and waiting until all the details of each scheme are on the table is probably not the right option for most farming businesses.

More support is being provided to farmers by way of the DEFRA Farmers Resilience Fund. The scheme has been extended to June 2022 and it allows every farm to have a day of free consultation. The consultation will aid farmers in understanding the new schemes and what could be of financial help to them. This is the best and most effective way of adapting to the changes that are facing the farming community.”

For more information on the scheme please contact Yvonne Coulston.