Iconic English upland landscapes are under threat because of Defra’s reluctance to spend enough cash on tests and trials for the post-Brexit Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), a network of farming and environmental organisations has warned.
The Uplands Alliance sounded the alarm as progress on the ELMS stalled because the department appeared unwilling to spend the £5m which was required to get the tests and trials up and running.
Farmers Guardian understands the Government has even asked National Parks involved in the programme to self-fund the tests and trials they have been approved to run in order to save cash.
Robin Milton, deputy chair of the Uplands Alliance and chair of the Exmoor National Park Authority, warned any delay in rolling out the new scheme could see hill farmers abandon measures such as rush management or maintenance of stone walls, hedges and footpaths to focus on their bottom lines.
“We have to remember by 2022, half the farmers in this country will be out of any form of environmental stewardship,” he said.
“The Government, in spite of putting together a 25-Year Environment Plan, is actually in effect abandoning an awful lot of environmental management, because with what is currently happening, they do not have any chance of managing to get a new ELMS in place on the timescale they are suggesting.”
As a result of the delay with progressing the new scheme, the Uplands Alliance has called for a longer Brexit transition period to protect ‘flat broke’ hill farmers who carry out vital environmental work, but are on course to lose half of their Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) cash by 2025.
Julia Aglionby, chair of the Uplands Alliance and executive director of the Foundation for Common Land, which is managing a trial on commons with the Federation of Cumbria Commoners, said Defra appeared to be ‘paralysed’ about moving forward with the tests and trials.
“If you think of the cost of the additional civil servants in Defra, it is something like £52m a year, so why is spending £5m so difficult to build a future policy?” she asked.
“I do not think they thought this through. Then they did a second call and got another 200 applications for tests and trials, so suddenly the budget has gone up massively again.”
Farming Minister Robert Goodwill said Defra did not underestimate the scale of implementing the ELMS.
“We will be running a national pilot over three years to test the policy and make sure we get it right, implementing the lessons learned into the final scheme,” he added.