In 2021 many in the farming and ecology sectors were united in the belief that the government’s proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) would bring about a positive revolution in farming. Farmers would no longer be paid to over-produce. Instead, new schemes would focus on developing a climate-resilient and nature-rich landscape and food production would be more innovative and inspired. ELMS was widely seen as the environmental silver lining to Brexit – when otherwise it presented serious threats – and as an opportunity to put sustainable food production at the heart of UK farming. Unfortunately, there are now genuine threats to derail ELMS and that silver lining is becoming tarnished.
When we were part of the European Union, UK farmers benefited from the two-tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme – they were paid money to make positive changes for land and nature. But the scheme was criticised as being too complicated to implement and monitor; with larger, wealthier farms often benefitting from the biggest pay-outs.
The new ELMS scheme has three tiers: the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), Local Nature Recovery (LNR) and Landscape Recovery (LR). It aims to link farm payments to sustainable land management that has a direct benefit for nature and climate. The SFI focuses on individual farms, while LNR and LR are about local and regional projects. Effectively farmers will be paid to carry out work that benefits wildlife while remaining economically viable. But the scheme is now threatened, with some in government even wanting it scrapped entirely.
The combination of the cost of living crisis, together with the impacts of the war in Ukraine, means that the government is left with little money to help those struggling with the steep rise in living costs. One of the easiest ways to save is by decreasing farming support. In theory this money is entirely ‘ring-fenced’ but there is a risk that the new ELMS support will be quietly postponed or manipulated so that some of the funding can be effectively reallocated elsewhere.
UK farms may look seasonally green and pleasant, but there is a battle ahead for the future of farming.
Delaying or manipulating new support schemes for farms and nature because of short-term shocks in energy and import costs is not the way forward. In 2022, the UK has the capacity to be almost entirely self-sufficient for temperate fruit, vegetables and livestock. Currently, farmers are caught between the realities of price rises and vague promises by the government of a better future. Many feel forced to sell good quality farmland for housing and commercial development simply to make money. There is no doubt that we are about to witness a revolution in farming across the UK, one in which we could lose many more farmers to bankruptcy.
We cannot eat from ever-expanding industrial estates, nor continue to live in denial of the accelerating impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. Please write to your MP and tell them clearly that this is neither the time nor the place to water-down support for farming and nature. ELMS must succeed. Without it, nature and farming will face an unprecedented and unparalleled crisis. There will be further loss of nature, further loss of sustainable land management practices, a greater reliance on imports and an economy that cannot adapt to the climate crisis.
Sign up to receive future eNews communications here.