UK government announces details of long-awaited green farming subsidy package for England

UK government announces details of long-awaited green farming subsidy package for England
The ELMS announcement helps provide clarity on the path forward for land management in England

Late last week, long awaited details were announced by the UK government about the post-Brexit farm subsidy scheme for England that replaces the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The new program, known as the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), focuses on providing “public money for public goods” such as wildlife protection, clean water, climate change mitigation and animal welfare.)

The strategy laid out by ELMS is implemented through three core payment schemes. The first is the Sustainable Farming Incentive, aimed at all land managers including tenant farmers, which focuses on relatively simple actions to improve soil health and reduce the use of fertilizers and insecticides. The second is the Countryside Stewardship Plus scheme, which rewards farmers for more advanced actions such as creating nature-friendly habitats to support wildlife and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Lastly there is the Landscape Recovery Scheme, which will pay groups of landowners to work together to support large-scale nature recovery projects, allowing strategic habitat networks to be created across a region. The first set of large-scale projects will be focused on recovery efforts for threatened native species and the restoration of England’s streams and rivers.

The new details laid out in the release included an expansion of the first version of the Sustainable Farming Incentive. Alongside three existing standards to improve soil health and moorlands released in 2022, this new announcement includes six new standards focused on:

  • hedgerows
  • grassland
  • arable land
  • horticultural land
  • pest management
  • nutrient management

Over 2,000 farmers have already signed up for the previous standards with hope that more will sign on in 2023. The aim is for the UK to work toward an agricultural transition that reconciles the perceived conflicts between food production and environmental protection.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey stated that “ Farmers are at the heart of our economy – producing the food on our tables as well as being the custodians of the land it comes from. These two roles go hand-in-hand and we are speeding up the roll out of our farming schemes so that everyone can be financially supported as they protect the planet while producing food more sustainably.”

Efforts have also been made to increase the accessibility and usability of these schemes by streamlining the application process in order to encourage wider uptake by farmers. Under this new process an application should take no more than 45 minutes to complete and require no external assistance.

However, critics are still concerned that the majority of these benefits will go to large-scale arable farmers, with much more limited prospects for small-scale farmers and those operating in difficult environments, such as uplands and moorlands. Others have stated that the program is not ambitious enough, offering too little assistance with slow implementation. A Guardian investigation revealed that only 224 farmers received payments from the scheme last year, but this was in the pilot phase so it is hoped that the overall uptake will increase. It has also been argued that there remains a lack of clarity on the vision of large-scale change, which underscores the need for an overall land-use framework for the country.

The new ELMS funds offer crucial support for a range of agricultural Nature-based Solutions that can tackle multiple societal challenges, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, while supporting nature recovery and sustainable food production. As part of our 12-month research sprint on Scaling Up Nature-based Solutions in the UK, NbSI team members are closely following the development and uptake of the ELMS policies, as the effectiveness of the scheme will significantly influence the incentives and barriers to scaling up NbS across England.