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Details of long-awaited land plans welcomed

The ambitious Environmental Land Management schemes will offer financial support to farmers and landowners to improve sustainability

The schemes aim to improve environmental sustainability in the UK

Defra has finally released full details, including actions, payment rates and timescales, of its ambitious new Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs). This wide-ranging programme of financial support for farmers and landowners aims to improve environmental sustainability and was described by Janet Hughes, the programme director for Future Farming and Countryside, as “straightforward, flexible and workable”.  

The Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI), which launched in pilot form in June 2022, has been expanded. This programme is designed to reduce costs, improve farm efficiency and enhance the natural environment. Pilot standards initially related to moorland and soil health for grassland and arable areas. A further six areas have now been added, including nutrient and pest management and hedgerows, with set standards for each. 

In addition to the SFI, Countryside Stewardship (CS) will continue and has an additional ‘Plus’ scheme. All provide capital grants that support environmental and habitat improvements. In many cases, the payment rates have been increased, a move welcomed by the sector, particularly in the light of recent price hikes in labour and input costs.

Suffolk arable farmer and keen Shot Jeremy Squirrel was one of the original SFI pilot scheme participants. He commented: “There have been plenty of positive amendments to the pilot. On the whole, SFI now seems to enable farmers to be more pragmatic and suit schemes to their own land, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ policy.” 

The benefits of flexibility were shared by Arthur Barraclough, director of game and conservation specialists Bright Seeds: “[ELMs] recognise that each farming enterprise is different. The emphasis will be to evolve CS to make it more outcome-focused and less prescriptive. This clearly puts those who know and tend the land in the driving seat.” 

Delays in finalising the schemes led to speculation last year by some members of the press that “ELMs are dead”. However, as British agriculture champion and conservationist ‘Farmer Tom’ Martin noted: “Janet [Hughes] took the time to speak to a great many farmers, enlisting us to become co-designers of this scheme. The Government appears to have listened and to a greater extent has acted.”