CFE is ten years old this year. Chloe Palmer reflects on the achievements of the initiative and hears why ‘Championing the Farmed Environment’ is more important than ever.
The much-touted theme of public money for public goods in the future payment scheme for farmers suggests it is more important than ever for farmers to highlight the good work they are doing for the environment.
It is timely, then, that ‘Championing the Farmed Environment’ is now the new name for CFE and the pertinent rebrand marks ten years of the initiative.
Jim Egan, head of training and development at the Allerton Project for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has been involved with CFE since it was first mooted as a response to the threat of compulsory set-aside.
He recalls how the campaign first came about.
“When Hilary Benn decided not to impose compulsory set-aside, the NFU and CLA linked up with FWAG, GWCT and LEAF to develop a voluntary approach to environmental delivery on farms,” he says.
“The first five years of the campaign focused on the uptake of agreed voluntary measures such as margins and wildflower seed mixes.
“A network of CFE coordinators led the work in each county and this was guided by Local Liaison Groups, which included farmers and representatives of partner organisations such as the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts.
“CFE organised more than 100 events each year and these were unique because for the first time, they brought together farmers and representatives of conservation organisations to solve a problem.”
Mr Egan also points to the informative literature which CFE produced which was ‘about doing stuff’ rather than policy. He says it is as relevant now as when it was first published.
As the industry moves towards a post-Brexit future, Mr Egan believes the initiative is more important than ever.
“CFE is about embedding environmental best practice in every farm business and making it part of a profitable farm enterprise,” he says. “The farmer can choose if he does this through Countryside Stewardship or greening, or whether he does it voluntarily.
“Once we have left Europe, the rules for any new scheme will be drawn up at home and there will be more direct pressure on politicians to embrace the environment.
Conservation organisations have eight million members and they will be able to have more influence.
“The challenge will be to encourage every farmer to do something for the environment and CFE has the industry support to make this happen.”
New CFE project officer, Laura Harpham, agrees and says: “The focus has increased on the environmental goods which farming delivers for the landscape, wildlife and the public.”CFE’s name change to Championing the Farmed Environment is a great opportunity to celebrate the work farmers are already doing, and to encourage more to be involved.”
Joe Stanley has farmed for ten years on the 320-hectare beef and arable family farm in Leicestershire after he initially chose a different career path following a degree in history at Durham University.
“We were in ELS for ten years but decided not to apply for the new Countryside Stewardship scheme, even though we have looked at it each year at the start of the application round. For us, CFE is now the only game in town.
“We have rolled over most of the options we used to do in ELS and so are now delivering these for free. Apart from the work we are doing on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) within the confines of the fields, there are huge unfarmed areas which we have devoted to wildlife.
“We now leave those awkward corners. Why take them back into production when they never yielded much anyway? It is critical we do not to lose the decades of environmental gain we have created on our farm.
“For us, CFE is filling an essential gap in the market between the legislative requirement and the schemes.
“It recognises the realities of the farmed environment far better than the efforts of those who designed Countryside Stewardship.
“CFE demonstrates how far UK agriculture has come in the last ten years.
“As an industry, we have a really good story to tell, we just need to get more farmers on board.”
Richard Bramley farms just over 200ha at Manor Farm, Kelfield near York which is entirely arable and he has been involved with CFE since the initiative was launched in 2009. His involvement was initially as a beacon farm for CFE and his farm was used to host events to demonstrate best practice.
He reflects back on the original reason for CFE which was to demonstrate farmers could ‘do more for the environment with less land’ than the 5% threshold which was being discussed for compulsory set-aside.
“CFE was a way of attracting some importance to those bits of the farm which were providing habitat. It has maintained momentum through many policy changes and extreme weather events.
“I think the name change is good. Championing the Farmed Environment is something we can do collectively with the environmental NGOs and other organisations.
“Maintaining the spotlight on providing habitats for wildlife, clean air, water and healthy soil is vital because they are all relevant.
“I think we have to point out that managing the environment cannot be a free activity on the back of cheap food.
“It has a cost and hopefully CFE will help farmers to further highlight the value of what we are doing as custodians of the countryside in pursuance of the delivery of public goods.”
Mr Underwood has been involved with CFE since its inception, initially as a FWAG farm conservation adviser and later in his various roles with CLA. He describes it as a ‘key lobbying tool’.
He believes CFE is particularly critical at this ‘hugely important crossroads for farming’ where he suggests decisions are being made which could influence the industry for decades to come.
“I will often be at stakeholder meetings where I will be one person of the 20 present who is representing farmers and defending all the good work the industry is doing.
“There are a number of MPs who are urban-centric and several politicians who want to see cheap food because they are in favour of the free market.
“Tools such as CFE which are proactive, industry led and can showcase things farmers are doing voluntarily for the environment will be essential in the future.
“There is much uncertainty around the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), so CFE will be crucial to demonstrate we need a fully funded environmental scheme.”