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Positive steps towards a nature-friendly farming future, but still a long road ahead

30 June 2021

Wildlife and Countryside Link has welcomed an announcement by the Environment Secretary today on the roll-out of the first phase of the Government’s new farm funding regime, the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

There has been some pleasing progress on the plans for this, including likely new standards to protect peatlands, one of our most vulnerable wildlife habitats and the UK’s biggest carbon sink. Positive elements include: the commitment to split funding equally between Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery; a commitment to pay for environmental outcomes and an openness to improve the schemes over time.

The announcement provided some detail on what environmental outcomes the Sustainable Farming Incentive could deliver, but stopped just short of a full breakdown of how this scheme and other schemes will contribute toward Government ambitions such as those in the 25 Year Environment Plan and Net Zero.

Dr Richard Benwell CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:

“There is simply no way that we can turn around nature’s decline by 2030 and achieve net zero without a huge effort from farmers and land managers. We need generous payments to support ambitious actions, so it is excellent to see Defra’s plan to allocate plenty of funds to Landscape and Local Nature Recovery programmes."

“Now, the challenge is creating confidence, as farmers still face a huge amount of uncertainty in a time of unprecedented upheaval. Today’s standards are a good starting point. Next, Government should set out a well-defined path toward further ambition, with clarity on regulations and payments in a regenerative farming future, backed by more public money.”

Further positives within the 2022 scheme include rewards for improvements for soils and grasslands above what is required by law, such as reducing tillage depths which has the potential to improve soil structure and maintain carbon storage levels in the soil. It is also welcome that land management plans will be used in the scheme. Requiring an assessment of the habitats and ecosystem function on individual farms will enable farmers to draw up a plan of actions tailored to their land, suitable to enhance their farms for nature and for their business.

Further areas which need improvement within the scheme include:

  • Including more rewards for farmers for using non-chemical pest control methods which are less damaging to pollinators and other insects; more aspects of Integrated Pest Management should be included in the standards.
  • None of the standards cover semi-improved grasslands or lowland common land, which are vital habitats across England.
  • There is no firm commitment to ramping up the ambition of the schemes over time, so that environmental delivery becomes more ambitious throughout the agricultural transition. This will be needed to meet key Government environmental objectives.
ENDS