The new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs), which is to replace Countryside Stewardship and the Basic Payment Scheme, is currently being designed through various tests around the country, commissioned by Defra. The tests will work with farmers and land managers on the ground to continually feed into national pilots, to co-design the scheme and understand how new features of ELMs would work in real-life environments.

The National Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty was chosen to develop an ELMs test and trial called ‘Farming for the Nation’, as the 12 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the UK cover several geographies and sectors, enabling a series of objectives to be brought together.

‘Farming for the Nation’ is testing and trialling the following:

  • How ‘ownership’ of ELMs can be achieved by existing and new audiences.
  • What are the barriers to scheme participation and how to incentivise greater up take.
  • How the scheme could widen its scope, by incorporating health and wellbeing and business objectives, alongside environmental goals.
  • How Natural Capital can be utilised to set targets and achieve the government’s objectives set out in its 25-Year Plan.
  • How the scheme will work and be delivered on the ground, within different farming situations.

In partnership with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and independent consultants, Cranborne Chase AONB launched the Cranborne Chase AONB Environmental Land Management Scheme Test in January 2020, with the aim to co-design Land Management Plans (LMPs) with six selected farms within the AONB, building on existing farm plans and incorporating information such as soils, water, access and historic environment. The LMP creation process will look to highlight current issues and opportunities in relation to the government’s 25-Year Plan objectives and will help form the basis of agreed actions and outcomes.

Initial workshops in early 2020 were open to all farmers within the AONB and other stakeholders such as Local Nature Partnerships and Health and Wellbeing Groups; there was great interest and a fantastic response from the farming community, with the workshop places filled very quickly. During the workshops the test team set out to seek agreement on what the public benefits of well-managed farmland are, which of these benefits farmers would consider managing within a new stewardship scheme and how it could fit in with the farm business, while also considering how to assess outcomes. As part of the discussions the Test team also wanted to understand what farmers felt didn’t work with past schemes, the issues with current schemes, and other potential sources of funding.

Physical workshops were organised and planned, but unfortunately the opportunity to meet in person was cancelled due to COVID-19. However, momentum was able to continue in the form of a virtual workshop. During lockdown, presentation links were provided to workshop participants to provide background information about ELMs, and to share the aim of the test. An online survey captured an insight into the level of participation of current schemes, thoughts surrounding ‘public money for public goods’, attitudes to self-monitoring of ‘public goods’, farm business and planning considerations, and feelings towards collaborative working and the Farmer Cluster concept. Even though an online survey does not allow the nuances of live discussion and debate to be captured, the survey received a 62% response rate, which allowed the test team to report substantial feedback to Defra.

With such a great response to the virtual workshop, the test was able to move forward and select the six farms to proceed and begin co-creation of the LMPs. It was important that the six participating farms provided variation in farm type, size and vision to ensure the six LMPs represented different farming situations. Currently, the appointed Test consultants are working with the six farms to determine Natural Capital opportunity at the farm level and links with neighbouring holdings to highlight potential for landscape-scale opportunities, such as the creation of pollinator networks and water quality improvements, to be fed into the LMPs.

Finalisation of the six LMPs will take place in the spring/autumn of 2021, and a report to Defra providing a guide on the LMP creation process will be submitted, following a final farmer workshop to provide feedback.

Further details and results from the test will be shared in the new year.

Cranborne Chase AONB Environmental Land Management Scheme Test

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