Farmers call for clarity on 'landscape recovery' nature payments

Jake Fiennes is head of conservation at the Holkham estate in north Norfolk and also a member of the NFU environment forum

Jake Fiennes is head of conservation at the Holkham estate in north Norfolk and also a member of the NFU environment forum - Credit: Denise Bradley

Farmers have outlined key unanswered questions on the government's new environment policies - including payment rates, the impact on tenants and who decides regional priorities.

Defra has published details on the top two tiers of its Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), designed to replace EU subsidies being phased out after Brexit.

A pilot scheme will soon be launched for the "Landscape Recovery" tier, aimed at supporting groups of farmers with large, long-term nature projects covering between 500 and 5,000 hectares.

There will also be a new "Local Nature Recovery" scheme trialled in 2023 - hailed as a "more ambitious successor" to the existing Countryside Stewardship scheme which will pay farmers to work together on measures such as reducing pollution, curbing flood risk and planting trees and hedges.

But Jake Fiennes, head of conservation at the Holkham estate in north Norfolk and a member of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) environment forum, said more detail was needed on both tiers.

"As a land occupier that relies significantly on stewardship, this is really key," he said. "We hope to get more detail on the payments, and what value will be placed on ecosystem services and natural resources.

"And, if it is based on local nature recovery, then who determines what is required at a local level?"

For the Landscape Recovery tier, Mr Fiennes questioned how much would be achieved with public and private money, and who are the "team of experts" which Defra says will decide the successful pilot bids.

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"It will be interesting to see who these individuals are and what credentials they have for determining what goes where," he said.

"I think landscape-scale change is a wonderful aspiration, and now there is a real opportunity - but the devil is in the detail. How do we deliver it, and who decides?"

Mr Fiennes said the government's stated goal of restoring up to 300,000 hectares of wildlife habitat by 2042 should not come at the expense of food production, as it is a "tiny" proportion of the 9.3m hectares of farmland in England, and was likely to be targeted at unproductive areas.

Gary Ford, regional director for NFU East Anglia, also urged ministers to bring clarity to farmers who are unable to make long-term financial plans amid the imminent loss of EU subsidies - adding that "a lack of options for tenant farmers to get involved must be addressed urgently."