The government’s new environmental land management schemes for England are an open door for land management practices undertaken for shooting and conservation, says Ian Danby…
Farming is in the midst of a sea change. This is both in terms of the financial support available to its participants and the markets they are selling to. Why? Well that would be Brexit of course.
As a result of our exit from EU, the whole model is changing with the basic payment scheme being phased out between 2021 and 2027. In place of the long-running countryside stewardship schemes in England will be three new agri-environment schemes.
There’s no doubt farms are going to have to diversify their income streams under the plans. This because the funds expected from the new agri-environment pot are less than the basic payment and countryside stewardship schemes opportunities farmers once had.
Some diversification might come from selling carbon credits or compensating unavoidable losses in biodiversity from development, the government’s biodiversity net gain approach.
If you’ve followed the emergence of these themes and their progress through legislation then you’ll know we are still in the pilot stage, getting ready for a 2024 roll out across the board.
Give all this change, its key that farmers and government understand the value a shooting tenant brings to a farm and to matters in the public interest. BASC has done that at high level, through our consultation responses and meetings with officials. However it’s a message we have to continually give across the board.
Shooting sports often contribute income into a farm business, either directly through rents or a value in kind. An example of the latter may be deer and grey squirrel management to protect growing trees.
However, a massive value shooting can really provide is through extending good habitat on the farm or improving the condition of existing habitat for nature. These things are directly saleable by the farmer to help diversify their income.
What really matters is there is no conflict between how we manage our shoots and the rules of each scheme. It also needs to be crystal clear that shooting and shoot tenants add value for the public purse.
So, returning to the now, the Secretary of State for Defra George Eustice at the Oxford Farming Conference in January announced the pilots of two of the new schemes in 2022. The first scheme’s pilot started last year.
He said they will play a pivotal role in the government’s objectives of halting the decline of species by 2030, bringing up to 60% of England’s agricultural soil under sustainable management by 2030, and restoring 300,000 hectares of wildlife habitat by 2042. Its these targets that shooting needs to show its relevance to.
BASC has been tracking and inputting to the development of the schemes. The basic offer being established for farmers is the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). It starts its second year of piloting in 2022.
Sustainable Farming Incentive is aimed to appeal to 70% of farmers in England and will pay farmers to produce ‘public goods’ like improved water quality, biodiversity, animal health and welfare, flood protection and climate change mitigation, alongside food production.
The agreements are for three years but are done by individual fields not whole farm. This is because they are adding more options each year so farmers in the pilots can bolt on new aspects as they become available within a three-year agreement.
Farmers have to meet standards at a certain level to receive payments. Some of those standards are very attractive to creating a good shoot.
For example in the arable standard fields in the scheme must have 70% green cover like autumn sown crops or weedy stubble or a cover crop.
This year they are adding a moorland and rough grazing standard too that is focussed on how to improve the condition of these habitats, so shoots should work alongside landowners and farmers to work out which options are of mutual benefit and where the shoot can add value to see them be successful.
The next level of offer is going to be openly trialled in 2023 but the details for it will be released later this year. This is the Local Nature Recovery Scheme which is aimed at single or multiple farm-scale interventions to make more space for nature.
The scheme could fit in with the aspirations of a farm shoot that wants to generate improved habitat such as shelter belts, cover crops and woodland management.
Defra’s ambition is that this will be deliver more than the existing countryside stewardship scheme. For 2022 they recommend people to get into the Sustainable Farming Incentive or Countryside Stewardship as stepping stones into the scheme.
The highest-level offer is the Landscape Recovery Scheme which is entering a pilot phase later this year. It is aimed at large-scale and long-term projects to provide landscape and ecosystem recovery. It is for areas between 500 and 5000 hectares and the agreement term is 30 years.
Suffice to say that is a substantial term for any landowner to consider. However, it could suit larger landowners working together, like shooting estates, to conserve key species such as the curlew or rewet peatland habitats.
The details are promised during this year with applications for the first pilot also taking place this year.
I think all these schemes offer a superb opportunity for people who shoot to work with landowners and farmers to put forward good quality applications for funding.
In broad principles all three schemes are looking to more habitat of better quality and recovery of England’s most threatened species. Management practices undertaken for shooting can help with these objectives, both in habitat creation and improvement and the often overlooked but vital species management required.
Evidencing that value to Defra in these pilots will show in no uncertain terms why schemes should actively include sustainable shooting to enhance the public benefits provided.