The Countryside Regeneration Trust (CRT) broadly welcomes the latest Government announcements on Environmental Land Management actions and payments, and its message that food production must work hand in glove with environmental improvements.

The new details include an average 10% increase in payment rates, a greater number of options, and a simplification of the application process. While the CRT has been actively championing a more nature-friendly approach to farming for 30 years, it's essential that greater numbers of farmers are financially rewarded for, not only food production, but also the creation and management of essential wildlife habitats. 

CRT Chair Sue Everett said: “At last, adequate financial rewards for delivering nature-friendly farming have been announced for England. This gives greater assurance for maintaining farming incomes as farmers must manage the transition away from direct payments to payment for 'public goods’, largely nature recovery and environmental improvements. 

“These enhanced payments will hopefully bring on board those who have not engaged to date and will adequately reward those who are already doing fantastic work to recover nature and who have carried on despite not being adequately supported,” Sue added.

While overall the CRT welcomes the Government’s recognition of the need to increase maintenance rates as well as habitat creation rates, rewarding farmers who are already working for the benefit of nature, the CRT’s Head of Estates, Kerriann McLackland, observes "whilst the changes are welcome, particularly the recognition of the costs of managing species rich lowland grassland, the frequency of changes and amendments to schemes continues to exasperate the uncertainty faced by farmers making planning very difficult."

Sue also commented “With nearly half of farms depending on public support to make a profit, it now becomes imperative that farmers embrace the agenda to restore nature and use their land to adapt to the growing risks associated with climate change.”

With international targets to restore nature stating that 30% of land and sea should be protected and maintained for nature by 2030, what we do with farmland and how we manage it is absolutely central to delivering on this target. 

At the CRT we are reviewing how our land is performing and what more we can do to improve our delivery for nature recovery and climate resilience. We will be working with our farmers on nature restoration projects and initiatives over the next few years and already have some exciting projects in the pipeline. 

Read Defra's announcement about the Sustainable Farming Incentives (SFIs) part of the Environmental Land Management schemes made on 4th January 2024

Perspectives from our tenant farmers

Tim Scott, arable farmer at Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire:

"As a farmer that is already using nature-friendly and regenerative methods, I am pleased to see that many of the techniques I am already using will be well supported by public funding.

"A key challenge for the Government will be how to get large scale farms that are focused on producing the biggest yields possible on board. Will the payments be enough to compensate them for taking some areas out of food production to make space for nature, or for actions that may reduce crop yield? 

"If we produce less grain in this country, as a nation we need to alter our diets and reduce food waste so that we don't simply move environmental problems elsewhere by increasing our reliance on foreign imports. It is harder to trace the sustainability and welfare standards of produce that is brought in from afar."

Matthew Elphick, dairy farmer at Brays Farm in Surrey:

"This announcement from Defra is definitely a step in the right direction. I am pleased that the payment for species rich grassland is increasing, we'll be looking into whether we can apply for this depending on what restrictions there are on grazing. I am disappointed to see that the payment for low input grassland still doesn't adequately reflect the environmental value of permanent pasture, grazed by ruminents like cows or sheep."

Bob Felton, livestock farmer on Twyford Farm, West Sussex:

"This is a big improvement, providing more money to compensate for the phasing out of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). It is also good to see that Defra are acknowledging that we need to retain food production and that they are giving proper consideration to enabling tenant farmers to access SFIs. However, small farms like ours will still be very dependent on diversification as well as these subsidies to run viable farming businesses."

PUBLISHED: 22nd January 2024

How you can help

We can’t do it without you. If you want to help us protect local wildlife you can support the CRT in any number of ways, from joining as a CRT Friend to volunteering on one of our farms and attending our events. You can also sign-up to our monthly newsletter 'CRT News' for regular updates from our farms, straight to your inbox.

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Read more about the wildlife and conservation initiatives on our farms here Wildlife Blog