Farmers to be paid to deliver ‘fundamental’ change in landscape

Environment Secretary George Eustice has said farmers and landlords will be paid to deliver “fundamental” changes to the landscape as part of the post-Brexit farming system.

The new regime for England includes a more ambitious program to support local nature on farms and “landscape recovery” funding for large-scale projects, which may include paying farmers to farm more sustainably. .

Environmental groups have welcomed ambitious environmental land management and a commitment to “radical” landscape-scale changes to address climate and nature crises, but have raised concerns over the lack of clarity about how they will work.

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Environment Secretary George Eustice said the ‘Local Nature Recovery’ plan would pay farmers to make room for nature (Aaron Chown/PA)

The National Farmers Union also criticized the lack of detail in the new schemes and warned that they could reduce food production in the UK.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference online, Mr Eustice said the “Local Nature Recovery” scheme would pay farmers to create space for nature, plant trees, build ponds and wildflower meadows on unproductive parts of their land.

It is intended to be a more ambitious replacement for the existing rural area management plan, which is also seeing a 30% increase in the value of payments to encourage more take-up as a bridge to the new system.

Mr Eustice said the landscape recovery element was “about a more fundamental land use change”.

Under the scheme, land managers can bid to receive funding for large-scale, long-term projects to establish woodlands, restore peatlands, wetlands and other habitats, and create new nature reserves.

In the first wave, up to 15 pilot projects could include rewilding plans that help reestablish natural processes in the landscape, restore England’s rivers and streams, and help recover threatened native species. will focus on doing.

Successful bids, which will cover a landscape of between 500 and 5,000 hectares (1,200 to 12,000 acres), will be selected by a team of experts over the summer.

Mr Eustis said the “radical rewilding experiment” at the Knepp estate in Sussex has shown that “sometimes if you let go of the reins and allow nature to re-establish itself, and natural habitats recover”. occurs, you can see some remove significant changes in a relatively short period of time”.

If we are to meet the goals we set ourselves for woodland formation in England – about 10,000 hectares of trees per year – and meet our objective of getting 300,000 hectares of land where habitat is restored, then essentially There is going to be some degree of land use changeEnvironment Secretary George Eustis

He told delegates: “These kinds of projects we envision under Landscape Recovery won’t be true for every agribusiness or every farm holder, and in fact they probably won’t be right for most farm businesses.

“This will enable us to support an option that some landlords want to take, but we won’t need anyone to enter into these plans.”

He told the conference: “It is important that we recognize the truth about land use.

“If we are to meet the goals we set ourselves for woodland construction in England – about 10,000 hectares of trees per year – and meet our objective of getting 300,000 hectares of land where habitat is restored, then inevitably There is going to be some degree of land use change.”

But he said it would be only a small part of the 9.3 million hectares of agricultural land in England.

And seeking to answer concerns about declining food production, he said there was no direct correlation between productivity and the amount of land cultivated, and that the government would keep a close watch on food security.

The three facets of the new program – being phased out over seven years – were each expected to account for about a third of annual government spending on English farm and land management payments by 2028, which currently stands at around £2.4 billion.

The government said the plans would help halt species decline, restore 300,000 hectares of habitat by 2042 and generate carbon savings of six million tonnes per year by the middle of 2030.

Bexie Speight, chief executive officer of the RSPB, said: “We need ambitious and radical plans that reward farmers for taking the necessary action to tackle the nature and climate crisis.

“On this, we completely agree with the government.

“However, once again the welcome rhetoric is not matching the urgency and action that the situation demands, and the lack of detail on how these plans will work in practice is still a matter of concern to both us and the farmers. reason.”

At a time when public support for British food and farming is at a high level, our biggest concern is that these schemes result in reduced food production in the UK, requiring more food to be imported from countries with production standards. which would be illegal. our farmersTom Bradshaw, NFU Vice President

NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw said that sustainable food production and environmental distribution must go hand in hand.

“While it is encouraging that sustainable food production has been recognized, there is a lack of detail about how this fits with the ambitions of plans to improve agricultural biodiversity, restore peatlands, and manage woodlands. Is.

“This lack of detail is preventing farmers from making important long-term decisions that are necessary for them to run a viable and profitable business.”

And he warned: “At a time when public support for British food and farming is at a high level, our biggest concern is that these schemes result in reduced food production in the UK, leading to higher production standards than countries with There is a need to import food which would be illegal for our farmers.

“It simply shuts down our production and any environmental impact that goes with it and would be morally reprehensible.”