Mechanisms which provide funding to farmers and land managers in exchange for certain activities benefitting the environment are called Agri-environment schemes. They use agricultural subsidies to influence positive management or ‘stewardship’ of farm landscapes and wildlife. These activities may involve hedgerows, field corners and margins of fields or specify types and amounts of fertiliser inputs, earliest cutting dates of hayfields or the use of specific crops that benefit birds or pollinators. More involved schemes entail habitat creation or restoration within the farmed landscape.
The agri-environment scheme promoted by the Carrs Wetland Project was called ‘Environmental Stewardship.’ It allocated European agricultural subsidies according to a formula devised by Natural England. There were 2 tiers of Environmental Stewardship; Entry Level (ELS) and Higher Level (HLS). In Entry Level farmers picked from a menu of straightforward environmental management actions. ELS agreements lasted five years, HLS ten years.
Higher Level Stewardship (HLS)
Higher Level Stewardship involved more complex environmental management, requiring support and advice from local advisers. More complex types of management demand greater commitment, but yield more significant environmental gains, so they attracted correspondingly higher levels of financial support over a longer period. Agreements tailored to local circumstances were signed for ten years. All the wetland restoration options came under HLS.
Higher Level Stewardship was superseded by Countryside Stewardship in 2015 and that is due to be replaced by ELMS (Environmental Land Management Scheme) some time after 2022. Schemes still underway in parts of The Carrs continue until their expiry.
Are farms in the wetland project area still signed up to HLS?
A number of agreements were signed between 2006 and 2012 by farms within The Carrs Wetland Project. At the time of updating this page, (Apr. 2021) most of the original HLS Wetland agreements, mediated by the Wetland Project have expired. Discussions on legacy agreements became a matter for discussion between the farms and Natural England directly. Some may have since signed up to Countryside Stewardship, with others waiting to see what ELMS will offer.
The Brexit question…
In the new political landscape of ‘Brexit’, domestic agricultural policy is in a period of uncertainty. Michael Gove in a ‘Green Brexit’ speech he gave as Environment Secretary indicated that public money in exchange for public goods will continue to be the mode of funding, thus farmers will earn their subsidies not on food production but on the environmental and land management benefits they provide. These include, for example flood management, biodiversity and climate change mitigation, perhaps even carbon sequestration, which is an exciting prospect for The Carrs with its 20 million cubic metres of carbon-rich peat soils.
On the future of farming support, Mr Gove said in his speech on 21/07/17 :
“This Government has pledged that when we leave the EU we will match the £3 billion that farmers currently receive in support from the CAP until 2022. And I want to ensure that we go on generously supporting farmers for many more years to come. But that support can only be argued for against other competing public goods if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear.”
Landowners interested in agri-environment schemes of any hue should speak to a Natural England Land Management Advisor to discuss their options.