Environmental Land Management Scheme - A welcome update

Published: 11/01/2023 By Rosie Dutson

An announcement from the Government on ELMS provides some much-needed clarity on how the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Countryside Stewardship Scheme and similar schemes will develop. Rural Surveyor Rosie Dutson outlines the key points.

There has been a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to the rollout of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) since it was originally unveiled. The new information from DEFRA released on 26th January has therefore been a welcome update. The update provides further details, and advice for UK farmers and land managers outlining, when, where and how these schemes will play out.

With the requirement for farmers to carry out more sustainable farming practices for the benefit of our environment, the UK food production system, farm biodiversity, soil health and productivity becoming ever more important. It is essential that the new schemes can assist and encourage all farmers with these aims.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) have been updated with an increased emphasis on

  • working on the ground
  • being good value for money and
  • delivering intended outcomes
The ultimate aim is the enhancement of rural environments alongside food production. New payment rates have been set to be fair and more attractive to farmers whilst also being good value for money as a public good. The recent increase in the CSS payment rates enforces this proposal and makes these schemes more achievable for farmers.

CSS will continue with a further focus on more locally targeted schemes with specific actions and options being used for particular habitats and species. These schemes will attract those who would like more tailored environmental management on their farm.

CSS will become more flexible with farmers being able to add land and actions onto their agreement each year, including adding to existing agreements.  Payments will also be made quarterly rather than annually – easing cash flow.

CSS will look to support farmers working together over multiple holdings in a locality to deliver larger-scale environmental outcomes. With farming cluster groups in the area already collaborating, this addition to CSS could allow for increased focus and the appropriate support for further improvement.

SFI will aim to provide ‘easy to apply’ universal actions which are required at scale across the UK to make significant environmental gains. These schemes will use standards and payments to provide flexibility to farmers to calculate the best way of delivering outcomes on their land with its own specific requirements. DEFRA are aiming for the vast majority of farmers to become involved with SFI, to achieve large-scale positive environmental change whilst improving farming productivity. SFI schemes will also be flexible with changes to chosen standards being possible on an annual basis.
The SFI update includes further details about what is required within each standard.  Payments will be offered for the management of arable and horticultural crops, grassland, all soils, nutrient management, pest management and hedgerows. These can be applied at different levels with higher levels providing more environmental benefits and consequently attracting higher payment rates. With the promotion of practices such as the integration of herbal leys into farming systems, removing insecticides from farmed areas and support for more no-till and direct drilling, these standards have the opportunity to encourage sustainable and regenerative practices on a large scale.

Woodland creation will continue to be funded through the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) which will transition to be part of ELMS with further management of these woodlands being financially supported.  This will include support for agroforestry systems. There are also further plans to fund access to rural and farming landscapes through the provision of educational events on farms, helping to increase the nation's understanding of food systems and how farming can have positive environmental impacts.

The suitability for tenant farmers has been considered in the design of ELMS. SFI will be open to tenants without the requirement for their landlord’s consent and for shorter-term tenants looking to enter into a CSS scheme, they will be able to sign up with their landlord’s consent, with the ability for the landlord to take over the scheme should their tenancy end.
Both schemes will be continually evolving with the aim of introducing improved options and payment rates over time.

ELMS should not solely be viewed as income from government subsidies as the outgoing Basic Payment Scheme was but as a facilitating tool for positive environmental change on farms in England. Once implemented the longer-term impacts on the soil and environment will be likely to prove themselves financially with improved crop growth and resilience as well as reduced dependence on artificial inputs, hopefully also reducing these costs, and their costs to the environment substantially.

 Symonds & Sampson can provide further specific advice and guidance in relation to ELMS and the schemes offered within it, and assist with undertaking applications. Please contact Rosie Dutson in our Sturminster Newton office on 01258 472244, or a member of our Rural Grants Team in your nearest office.