The industry has called for a ‘Gove guarantee’ on agri-environment schemes.
Farming and green organisations have united in demanding a guarantee farmers and land managers will not be at a disadvantage when a ‘new and improved’ stewardship scheme is launched post-Brexit.
In a letter to Environment Secretary Michael Gove, industry leaders from nine organisations said farmers and land managers were wary about engaging with the current Countryside Stewardship scheme as they did not want to commit themselves to a five-year agreement which may limit their ability to access improved schemes in the future.
It came as Defra Ministers suggested there would still be support for achieving environmental outcomes but on a simpler and ‘more effective’ basis as part of any new scheme.
The letter read: “Defra ministers have highlighted improving the implementation of agricultural policy and agri-environment schemes as a priority when the UK leaves the EU.
“There is an expectation among farmers and land managers future schemes will be a more attractive proposition than current ones.”
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said some potential applicants for Countryside Stewardship were already questioning whether they should apply now or hold off until a better scheme became available.
He said: “This reduces the level of environmental management and increases the chance of less funding being made available by Defra in the European Rural Development Fund, at just the time we should be encouraging greater uptake.”
He urged Mr Gove to provide confidence to the sector and offer assurances to continue engagement in schemes which delivered positive environmental results.
Steve Trotter, England and Living Landscapes director at The Wildlife Trusts, added: “The uncertainty facing farmers and land managers about whether they are better off in or out of Countryside Stewardship risks reversing the fortunes of wildlife which benefited from this and previous agri-environment schemes.”
Organisations supporting the call include the CLA, NFU, Tenant Farmers Association, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds England, The Wildlife Trusts, Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Trust and Farm Wildlife Advisory Group.