Initial results of a pilot trialling a new style of results based agri-environment scheme payments for farmers was met with a positive reception from stakeholders in North Yorkshire.
This new style scheme sees farmers retain full management control of their land to deliver its desired outcomes, with evidence-based payments made on a tier system in-line with the outcomes that have been met.
The Results Based Agri-environment Payment Scheme is a three year pilot being co-ordinated by Natural England and delivered in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority
after grant of €500,000 was awarded from the EU.
A review of the three year project was presented at a recent meeting in Wensleydale, which is one of two pilot areas in England and hosted the grassland element. The other, an arable element, took place on the Norfolk/Suffolk border
Jane Le Cocq, farm conservation advisor for the YDNPA, was involved in the schemes delivery in Wensleydale.
She explained that the pilot’s aim has been to assess how this option could work as an alternative to existing agri-environment schemes.
To be able to compare the two approaches, Mrs Le Cocq said this led to the decision to focus on two current options for the maintenance and restoration of species rich grassland and breeding wader habitat.
The payment by results approach sees farmers carry out an annual self-assessment against a set of agreed indicators, fixed at an initial baseline assessment which is also carried out by an advisor.
Assessment results, based on a points system, are then linked to the payment bands and dictate the level of payment received.
For the upland hay meadows, desired outcomes are linked to promoting a greater number of species and correspond to the payment received which ranges from £112-£371 per hectare.
For breeder wader habitat, the criteria is linked to vegetation height, rush cover, wet features with scale and quality and a focus on limiting damage operations. Payments here range from £35-£174 per ha.
12 of the 19 farmers in the scheme had produced hay meadows that had gone up at least one payment band – meaning that the fields had become more species rich – with only one farmer going down a band.
Mrs Le Cocq said: “The farmes who took part are really keen on the flexibility and the fact that there are no prescriptions.
“We feel that this project has been a success. We’ve got engaged farmers, enthusiastic farmers, gaining confidence. And most importantly, there’s an element of trust here and I think that has been lost in the conventional approaches to agri-environment schemes.”
Paul Hunter, West Witton: “I recently took management control of the farm and this looked an attractive option in seeking to make as much money from the farm as possible. We have not been in any environmental scheme before and this involved no major management changes, just minor tweaks.”
Andrew Caton, Upper Wensleydale: “The fields we have in the pilot had previously been identified for HLS but this wasn’t a suitable option for us. This pilot scheme provided a good opportunity to put these fields in a scheme while still keeping control of them, especially around things like cutting dates which are so restrictive on other schemes”.
Caroline Harrison, Coverdale: “I am interested in environmental schemes and have been involved in several before as I believe in looking after wildlife. I was keen to have a farmer input into this as a new project and hopefully have some influence in its development in the future.”
Andrew Keiley, Hardraw: “You get out what you put in with this scheme and it has given us an incentive to try and score a highly as possible to get the higher payments. The weather and other factors have an influence so it might be worth considering these for the future.”
The National Trust also gave an update in its Payments for Outcomes pilot, currently underway on two farms in Upper Wharfedale, Fran Graham, who has been involved in delivering the trial with the National Trust, explained that it will run from 2017-2022 and currently has options for in-bye soil and carbon and pollinator health as well as a whole farm pollinator health bonus.
Similar to the RBAPS trial, payments are made on a results basis in-line with the extent to which desired outcomes, set by the National Trust, have been met and assessments are farmer-led, with the support of an advisor.
For the in-bye soil and carbon, criteria is linked to providing species habitat and promoting good carbon and water storage conditions, with desired outcomes for pollinator health around providing excellent pollen and nectar resources for wild pollinators, the whole farm option offering a bonus for positioning pollinator-friendly habitats patches close together to benefit more species.