The former environment minister has urged the UK government not to abandon agriculture plans to restore nature, as the Guardian could reveal the most ambitious parts of a post-EU support program to be dropped.
George Eustice has stepped in, telling the Guardian that farmers are keen to sign up for schemes where they improve biodiversity, and that his alternative, Ranil Jayawardena, should not cancel them.
When the United Kingdom was in the European Union, farmers were paid subsidies based on the amount of land they managed. The post-Brexit government decided that farmers in England should be paid for providing “public goods” and not for the amount of land they use. The Environmental Land Management Scheme (Elms), devised by former environment minister Michael Gove, aims to encourage farmers to create space for rare species, as well as increase carbon sequestration to help England reach its net zero target.
Last week, the Monitor revealed that the future of the support program was under threat as it was put into review with an emphasis on productivity rather than restoration.
The Guardian now understands that the review is set to strip the nature restoration parts of the scheme. There are currently three prongs for Elms. One is the Sustainable Agriculture Incentive (SFI), which gives farmers money to farm in a sustainable way, such as taking care of animals properly and improving soil health by using cover crops and not using many pesticides. Local Nature Recovery (LNR) is about creating woodlands, wetlands, and hedges and working with local nature groups to do so. Finally, Landscape Restoration (LR) is where large landowners or farmer groups work with the government to create ambitious rebuilding schemes.
Understandably under threat, the LR and LNR are two parts of the scheme that revolve around improving biodiversity and an essential part of achieving the country’s net zero target.
Eustis urged the government to keep the schemes that are set to replace the current nature program called Countryside Care. He said: “Now we have 33,000 farmers in rural welfare agreements. This is about 40% of all farmers covering about half of the farmland. There was a 40% increase in demand for it last year. I have always insisted that we should just loosen up and let the budget go. Track the demand on this scheme whatever it is. If they believe in the markets, they have to let the budget track the demand.”
He added that his plan would have ensured farmers’ smooth transition to ambitious nature restoration plans, which would improve the environment and help farmers get their subsidies.
“We simply planned to convert all existing CS to LNRs in 2024 to give a smooth transition possible and have a master scheme that probably already had more than half of the farmers in it. It would have been a great example of evolution rather than a stalled revolution. Instead of having everyone come down from CS train and they establish connection with LNR, they will stay on the same train and get to LNR.But if they throttle the budget on CS, they will spoil that plan and send everything in the opposite direction.
The farmers also talked about the government’s plans.
James Robinson, an organic dairy farmer from the Lake District, said: “The local restoration portion of Elms has the potential to make the greatest change to habitat and biodiversity. It can join neighboring farms through existing associated habitats such as rivers and woodlands, and can challenge farms To do something really positive on the farm.
“As farmers, we are in a unique and special position to do something really special for biodiversity, new wildlife habitats, clean air and water, flood mitigation and carbon sequestration, all of which improve our local community. By getting farmers to see the benefits of farming alongside nature, we can We’re showing government, businesses and consumers that it’s the only truly sustainable way to farm.”
“The only way we are going to work is if we integrate nature into our farming business,” said Jake Fiennes, director of conservation at Holkham National Nature Reserve and Farm in North Norfolk. “People who have invested in natural capital have really improved and been a pioneer in restoring nature. Seeing the restoration of turbocharged nature within our cultivated landscapes, we need the blueprints to be a big bonus to growers.
Less productive land should be given in order to restore nature and farmers should be rewarded for it. The government should maintain and properly fund its own restoration plans.”
Jayawardena is expected to outline some of his farming priorities at the Conservative Party conference, including a focus on growing more British lettuce and expanding use of greenhouses.
The Guardian asked Source 10 several times if they were committed to local nature and landscape restoration plans, but they declined to answer. Instead, they said they were committed to the general idea of agricultural schemes and reforms.
They said: “The Prime Minister is committed to continuing to restore British nature. There are no plans to cancel our agricultural schemes.”