I’ve been part of and listened to many conversations, discussions and presentations about farming and landscapes in the UK over the last 3 months or so. If you’re not already aware, there’s about to be a monumental transition for agriculture due to the UK’s withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which is created and managed by the European Union (EU).
This writing is not an all-encompassing view on our agricultural transition. I hope it is a useful introduction to those who may not be familiar with our policies, provides some reflections and some useful links if you’d like to know more.
Farmers currently receive money through the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and they may also be signed up to a Countryside Stewardship (CS) or Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme. The stewardship schemes are payments for the ecological focused work that farmers do in their practice to support wildlife and ecosystems. All of these schemes are now being phased out as developments and moves are being made towards the New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS or ELMS). This transition will happen over about 8 years.
This development and roll out of the new scheme ELMS is managed by the Department for Enviroment, Food and Rurual Affairs (DEFRA). The transition could be bumpy, difficult and damaging if the farmers are not well supported. We are at risk of losing a huge amount of small farms, which could then be assimilated into much larger, more industrial farms or these could be rewilded and taken out of farming completely. These are polarised possibilities, and there is a potential lack of middle ground. We may lose more farming knowledge and heritage, which is what happened after WWII when farming, broadly, became heavily industrialised and reliant on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
However, there is also a great opportunity to transform our agricultural systems to be more widely sustainable, regenerative and healthy for humans and ecosystems. To enable this, though, there needs to be strategies beyond the words used to garner support for a transition to new agricultural policy.
In reality there’s going to be a huge loss of income for farmers before the new opportunities for payments through ELMS makes up some of the loss. However, this isn’t a replacement for BPS. There will be different and additional work for farmers to do to signup to ELMS. There is a change in focus to “public money for public goods/benefits”, as outlined in the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan. The focus is on provision of the benefits nature provides to humans (Ecosystem Services) when the land is cared for appropriately. These benefits include supporting high levels of biodiversity, clean water, holding water in the landscapes for flood prevention and carbon sequestration. There is no focus on food provision – a big change from the post-war focus on maximising food production.
To provide these multiple benefits through farmed landscapes, there are agroecological or regenerative practices which can support both farming and healthy ecosystems within landscapes. A middle ground, a space to have conversations amongst the diversity of perspectives and values within our landscapes. Spaces for conversation and collaboration are vital, and these spaces seem to be popping up, such as Land Management 2.0. In recognising the ecosystems provide services to us, we also need to recognise that we need to provide services to ecosystems. It needs to be a reciprocal relationship of care.
Some opportunities to find out more:
- For land managers in particular, there are Defra-run webinars (28th and 30th July, so book soon!): ELMS webinars
- Join the Land management 2.0 discussions
- Follow the Landworkers Alliance to learn more about agroecology and be part of the political conversation
- The Oxford Real Farming Conference (7th-13th January 2020) and the first Northern Real Farming Conference (28th September – 10th October 2020) are ones to hear the diverse voices within farming and learn about the opportunities for our future.