In moving away post-Brexit from the the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the UK government planned to move the agricultural-subsidy system for the UK farming industry towards one which linked subsidies to land protection, environmental protection, enhancing biodiversity and conservation measures – all under a new system named the “Environmental Land Management Scheme” (ELMS). The scheme will provide payments for farming that improves the environment and relieves climate change, such as hedge planting and river management initiatives and initiatives to increase biodiversity, restore landscapes, promote animal welfare and increase productivity through investment in new equipment and technology. The Act provides for a seven-year agricultural transition period (although that can be extended) from 2021 to 2027. The Agriculture Act, passed in November 2020, set a legislative framework for the new subsidy regime in England, including the list of ‘public goods’ for which subsidies may be paid. Shortly afterwards, Defra published an updated plan, The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024.
To transition to this new system, a Basic Payment Scheme was put in place with funding for Direct Payments for 2020 continued at the same level as 2019 to supplement the remaining EU funding that farmers will have received for development projects until 2023. During that time, BPS will be phased out and new financial assistance schemes will be phased in. The Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme will replace basic payments to farmers in England. In late September 2022 Defra rushed to quash news stories that its new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) farming policy to replace the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was being halted.
ELMS: Where are we now?
The government has announced its long-awaited system of subsidies for Environmental Land Management (ELM). So, what’s new? We break down the progress made with ELMs to date, and where it’s heading in the future.
Having caused widespread concern by announcing a review into the viability of the ELMs scheme in late 2022, there was speculation that the subsidy would be axed entirely, with a return to a CAP-style system defined by area based payments. Nonetheless, it was confirmed that ELM would be implemented, split into three unique, but integrated levels; Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), Countryside Stewardship “plus”, and Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS). Despite this confirmation, however, it was unclear not only who could access the schemes and the specific details of their implementation, but exactly how much farmers and land managers would be paid for certain actions.
Today however, the government announced the payment rates for the three tiers. Therese Coffey, alongside this announcement, told land managers that “we are speeding up the rollout of our farming schemes so that everyone can be financially supported as they protect the planet while producing food more sustainably.” It is hoped that this will allow the sector to have a clearer picture for the future, and can finally start making plans for getting paid to create “public good” such as clean water, biodiversity uplift and woodland creation.
Applications for some of the payments will open in February, with others to follow in March, and some will be rolled out later in the year and next year. LNR is being trialled throughout 2023 with the hope that all eligible applicants can apply from the end of 2024. Payments under the English Woodland Creation Offer continue to be available, as well as Countryside Stewardship applications having recently opened. Land managers hoping to apply will have to keep a close watch for Defra’s announcements, given the staged rollout of availability. Nonetheless, the ELM announcements represent a crucial step forward for environmental-based payments in the land sector, bringing some much needed clarity and long-awaited peace of mind.
In such a critical time for the land sector, though, it is imperative that land managers and farmers are continued to be empowered to make sustainable decisions and access funding to produce public goods.
To avoid a piecemeal approach to restoring ecosystems through ELMS, interventions must be designed collaboratively and at the landscape level, to ensure maximum ecological and financial benefit is brought about by these schemes. Having the ability to assess and baseline your land, habitat assessment and co-design land management plans has never been more important.