Defra’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme is facing fresh criticism, after newly-shared documents suggested it will bear ‘more than a passing resemblance’ to old agri-environment arrangements.
Industry leaders have recently seen details of how the scheme will operate, which show farmers will not be paid for the value of the environmental services they provide, and should only expect to receive income foregone plus costs – as yet undefined – if they choose to participate.
The papers also explain farmers will be paid for actions, as opposed to outcomes, in a marked shift from an earlier vision for the scheme.
And direct payments will be wound down quickly, with farmers anticipated to lose half of their BPS claim by 2024.
Writing exclusively for Farmers Guardian’s Brexit hub, executive director of the Foundation for Common Land and chair of the Uplands Alliance Julia Aglionby said: “There have been many, many Defra meetings with multiple Power Points to speed read and long spreadsheets to pore over.
“The latest had 1,261 rows of proposed actions ELMs might pay for. I love a good spreadsheet, but no one can claim they offer vision or inspiration. So far, ELMs lacks both.”
Ms Aglionby also pointed out that despite the huge number of actions eligible for payment, significant gaps had been identified relating to the management and governance of commons, supporting native breeds and conserving the cultural heritage of farming systems.
The Government had previously committed to consider all these issues as part of the scheme’s development.
Concerns have also been raised about Defra’s decision to work up the detail of the scheme behind closed doors – despite promising a process of co-creation.
“The Defra policy team and the arms-length bodies have been working up the detail of ELMs, while about 25 non-government organisations are managed by Stakeholder Engagement as a sounding board for elements Defra chooses to share,” wrote Ms Aglionby.
“Previously, I was worried ELMs would be late as we had not seen any details. Now I realise substantive work is being undertaken internally and shared when pretty well shaped, though Defra are now planning to improve their co-creation methods.”