Farmers meet government officials in the Broads to help shape post-Brexit policies
PUBLISHED: 15:25 20 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:21 03 March 2020
A new partnership of farmers and land managers met government officials in the Broads to help shape post-Brexit policies to fund environmental work on farmland.
The Broads Authority, National Farmers' Union (NFU), Natural England and Norfolk FWAG (Farming and Wildlife Advice Group) hosted a visit from Defra to discuss with farmers and reedcutters how conservation and agriculture can work together to protect this valuable ecosystem of marshes, fens and reedbeds amid a changing political landscape.
The UK's departure from the EU has sparked the biggest change in rural policy for a generation, with the current system of largely land-based subsidies being phased out in favour of a new Environmental Land Management System (ELMS) which will reward farmers for "public goods", such as improving soil health, boosting wildlife or mitigating climate change.
The event in the Broads, including a series of workshops and discussions with a steering group of local land managers, was part of Defra's official "test and trials" as it develops this new scheme.
The Broads boasts more than a quarter of the UK's rarest wildlife, but the majority of land is privately owned by farmers so a partnership between farmers, reedcutters and conservationists is seen as vital in preserving the area's complex ecological balance.
The Defra team leading the policy and testing of ELMS visited Louis and Fran Baugh's Farm at Neatishead Hall, How Hill National Nature Reserve and St Benet's Level to view landscape management practices in the Bure and Ant valleys.
They visited grazing marshes managed for breeding waders and winter wildfowl. Here, they met with Broadland farmers whose lowland grazing systems, under the new scheme, would be compensated for the landscape benefits their herd delivers. Their cows keep grassland at a length suitable for nesting and wintering birds, such as the lapwing, redshank and widgeon.
Reed cutting also creates refuges for birds and invertebrates, but needs financial support to maintain competitive markets while delivering these benefits for wildlife. The Defra team met reedcutters while they harvested reed for local thatching at How Hill National Nature Reserve.
Broads Authority environment policy adviser Andrea Kelly said: "The Broads Authority is delighted to be helping design this innovative new agricultural-environment scheme. Sustainable farming already provides many environmental benefits, such as water storage in the floodplain of the Broads, amazing wildlife habitat, clean water, and carbon storage.
"These grazing marshes are an iconic part of our heritage - the design of this scheme will help farmers to benefit for the services they provide in protecting our cultural and natural heritage."
NFU environment adviser Rob Wise added: "Broadland farmers have led the way in boosting these biodiverse grazing marshes through over twenty years involvement in conservation management, and we are keen to ensure that the new system allows and encourages that legacy to be carried forward."
The partnership team was made up of Broads Authority, NFU, Norfolk FWAG, Natural England, RSPB, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Water Management Alliance and the Broads Reed and Sedge Cutters Association.