Rural subsidies: new system based on nature benefits rather than farm size. Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty Images Rural subsidies: new system based on nature benefits rather than farm size. Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty Images

The briefing: Prepare for the new Environmental Land Management Scheme

A much anticipated discussion paper launched in February sets out DEFRA’s thinking on how it plans to replace the EU Common Agricultural Policy system of subsidies to farmers

What is the Environmental Land Management Scheme? 

The new English Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) will replace the current, EU-wide system of basic payments, agri-environment and rural development subsidies for farmers. The key difference is that, after a seven-year transition, farmers will be paid public money for delivering public ‘goods’, whereas the main Common Agricultural Policy scheme is largely based on farm size with minimal compliance requirements. 

The legal framework for the scheme is via the Agriculture Bill, currently passing through parliament, which gives powers for 10 public ‘purposes’ to get financial support, including nature, pollution, climate, soil and native livestock, plus additional support for productivity and ancillary activities. 

What is in the discussion paper?

The new discussion document describes six goods that ELMS will support. The goods are mainly environmental, including climate, cultural heritage and public engagement. Options are given for the scheme design with questions for stakeholders to respond to by 5 May. A national pilot of the scheme is intended to begin in late 2021 and full rollout from late 2024.

The paper confirms a three-tier approach. Tier one is aimed at “incentivising environmentally sustainable farming and forestry and helping deliver environmental benefits”, such as field margins and nutrient management. Tier two, meanwhile, is “designed to support land managers in the delivery of locally targeted environmental outcomes”, including tree, shrub and/or hedge planting. Tier three is for “delivering landscape-scale land-use change projects”.

Are there any unresolved areas?

The paper describes the difficulty in deciding whether to pay farmers for actions or outcomes, both, or something in between, recognising that measurements are imperfect and land managers are not always in control of outcomes. There is little detail on budget priorities in terms of outcomes and allocations between tiers. Stakeholders are also concerned the tier-one scheme may be setting the bar too low – taking the bulk of the budget paying for legal compliance or basic good practice when major ambition is needed to restore nature and tackle the climate crisis.

Who will be eligible?

Eligibility seems to vary according to tiers and there is no confirmation that entry requirements will include compliance with existing regulations, such as pollution or animal welfare. Tier one will be available to all farmers but tier two is for land managers and is likely to attract those “with more interest/experience”. Tier three, meanwhile, is for land managers with the right natural capital assets at a scale to deliver transformational land-use change. 

What about the advice and guidance needed?

Given the widened scope of outcomes being delivered compared with previous agri-environment programmes, the need for new and accessible advice, training and demonstration will be essential. DEFRA discusses options including one-to-one advice and facilitation of peer-to-peer learning, but there is little detail on budget and capacity to deliver this.

Vicki Hird is the lead on
farming and supply chain
policy at Sustain Alliance

Compliance Search

Discover all ENDS content in one place, including legislation summaries to keep up to date with compliance deadlines

Compliance Deadlines

Plan ahead with our Calendar feature highlighting upcoming compliance deadlines

News from ENDS Europe

News from ENDS Waste & Bioenergy