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Farmers are keen to do more to protect and enhance the environment – but have concerns about the government’s forthcoming Environmental Land Management (ELM)... Confidence needed to build faith in environmental land management

Farmers are keen to do more to protect and enhance the environment – but have concerns about the government’s forthcoming Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

More clarity is needed about the shift away from Basic Payments to the new system of farm support under ELMs, reveals a survey carried out by the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) and Strutt & Parker.

Some 80% of respondents were concerned about losses in biodiversity. The same percentage agreed with the idea of paying land managers for the “public goods” of looking after the environment and helping to mitigate climate change.

Higher priority

More than half reported they were already taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and 64% said a sense of personal responsibility would motivate them to make climate change a higher priority in terms of managing their land and property.

Four out of five respondents said they were either likely or very likely to join ELMS, or an equivalent scheme, when it becomes fully available in 2024. But many farmers said more clarity was needed about how the scheme will work.

CLA president Mark Bridgeman said: “It’s very encouraging to see that mitigating climate change and reversing biodiversity decline is at the top of many farming businesses’ priority list.”

It was also encouraging farmers were keen to take part in the government’s new ELMS scheme, added Mr Bridgeman. “The public can see the impact of biodiversity loss and climate change and understandably they expect us to act.

Uniquely placed

“As stewards of the countryside, we are uniquely placed to deliver meaningful programmes that will drive environmental recovery, and we are determined to play our part in meeting the challenges ahead.”

Farmers said they were likely to sign up to measures supporting pollinators by increasing pollen and nectar sources (78%), providing seed habitats to support woodland birds over winter (73%) and tree planting to absorb carbon (57%).

But there were lower levels of support for options such as growing energy crops (25%) or planting trees to slow flood waters (35%). Respondents also signalled that they did have concerns about how ELMS will operate.

Mr Bridgeman said: “These results do show, however, some trends that will concern government, whose optimism for the move towards ‘public money for public goods’ is clearly not shared by all farmers.

Land management

“The CLA believes ELMs has the potential to be a world-leading land management policy, but there are clear risks associated with transitioning from the old system to the new. Ministers should consider these findings carefully.”

James Farrell, head of rural at Strutt & Parker, said it was important to understand what farmers were feeling about ELMs because they had a vital role to play in reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2050.

“There is a lack of confidence within the sector about the implementation of ELMS and highlights there are some actions, particularly those which require permanent land use changes, where landowners may be less willing to get involved.

“We hope that Defra can address this as they refine their plans for ELMS over the coming months.”