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Delay to ELM scheme not acceptable say farmers

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Farmers are calling on UK Government for urgent clarity on the Environmental Land Management (ELM) Scheme, six years after it was proposed.

The future of the farm-based subsidy scheme, designed to replace the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) and reward farmers for their environmental work, was called into doubt recently, after a review of the plans was announced and meetings between farmers and DEFRA regarding the scheme were cancelled. A Government-set deadline of 31st October, by which to publish targets to clean up Britain’s waterways and boost biodiversity, was also missed.

Then on Thursday last week, at the CLA’s annual conference, the new Environment Secretary Therese Coffey announced that the review was complete and further details would be announced “early in the new year”, saying:

“I am committed to giving you the clarity, certainty and support that I know you need, so early in the new year – I can’t make the announcements today – we will be saying more about what we’ll be offering to pay you to do in the next phase of all the schemes.”

The continued lack of clarity has been met with disappointment by farmers, with Martin Lines, a third generation farmer from Cambridgeshire and Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) saying:

“I’ve been really supportive of a scheme that rewards positive action, but I feel quite let down by the government for the lack of information and clarity to help the whole farm industry transition to something better.”

Tom Bradshaw, the NFU deputy president, who farms in Essex went one step further saying:

“The latest delay is simply not acceptable. We’ve had six years to get to this point and we’re still kicking the can down the road.

“Members’ payments have been reduced and we were always told they would not be reduced until there was another scheme in place.”

Farming Minister Mark Spencer defended the latest delay, saying: 

“I think it is quite reasonable to make sure that the schemes we are going to roll out help us as a nation deliver on our carbon commitments and make sure we are improving the environment, improving our biodiversity.

“I think it is reasonable to say when a new secretary of state comes in, she has to have a window of opportunity just to review and make sure that the schemes are going to deliver these outcomes, as we want this to work.”

Hedgerows are of high importance 

Meanwhile, farmers have expressed their support for the government to introduce a target to expand the country’s hedgerow network in a recent survey carried out by CPRE, the countryside charity. The survey featured 1,100 farmers and land managers, reportedly from a broad cross section of regions and sizes of business. It found that 86% of farmers say that hedgerows are important to them and their business and that 70% would plant more, given the right incentive. Providing a ‘nature corridor’ for wildlife on farmers was seen as the top benefit of hedgerows, with the vast majority (80%) supporting a target to increase hedgerows by 40% by 2050 as a key climate and nature recovery goal.  

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE, a farmer on the Devon-Cornwall border, said:

“Hedgerows are nature’s treasure trove; they’re one of the greatest pleasures of living in the countryside and need to be nurtured. Wildlife navigates what looks like an impenetrable network of plants and foliage with ease. Hedgerows provide a year-round habitat for nesting or hibernation and a ready supply of food, as well as much needed shade and shelter for livestock.

“Historically hedgerows were planted as a barrier or to mark a boundary between parcels of land or neighbouring properties, but they are so much more. Sensitively managed, they are multifunctional and, for me, add to the beauty of the countryside. We all need to find ways to protect nature and the environment as we face the effects of climate change, and if increasing the extent of UK hedgerows by 40% by 2050 can be part of that change, it certainly has my vote and support.”

Private finance, possibly in the form of carbon credits, was identified as a significant opportunity for future hedgerow funding. A small majority of farmers said they currently received some form of government support for hedgerow planting, often from Countryside Stewardship funding. However, over a quarter had access to private funding.

As a result of the findings, the CPRE are recommending the government explores how private funding, such as hedgerow carbon credits, or from water companies wanting to improve water quality, could help support farmers to deliver a major hedgerow planting programme, and that ELMs provide a straightforward, accessible and flexible entry level offer to farmers that properly rewards and supports healthy hedgerows, with widespread take-up.

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