CRT trustee and farmer, Tim Scott (below), is calling on the government to ensure that when it finally announces details, its plans are well-rounded, not only in what they’re offering financially, but also how farmers are supported in applying for the schemes, and what ongoing wildlife monitoring is carried out to ensure their implementation is effective. Tim's views are published in Farmers Weekly (9th December issue).  

There are already fears the schemes could be watered down, ineffectual, and come with too much red tape to encourage enough farmers to engage with them. According to Environment Secretary Therese Coffey, while speaking at a recent CLA Conference, details on the scheme will now be revealed in January 2023.

The continued delays in bringing clarity have brought criticism from many organisations and CLA president Mark Tufnell went as far as warning that the rural community was fast running out of patience.

Tim Scott, who grows arable crops on the CRT’s Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire, already manages the land regenerative to encourage biodiversity. His dedication to wildlife has seen increasing numbers of Red-listed farmlands birds, such as skylarks, yellow hammer, and grey partridge (below) on the farm, and he firmly believes that birds should be present across all the cropped land, not just confined to edge features and corners. 

First and foremost, to make the optimum difference by engaging with as many farmers as possible, Tim believes there is little point in delivering something too complicated or too time-consuming for many farmers to even consider taking part:

“To help with the process, we need Defra to provide regional experts, a dedicated ELMS advisor, who can work with individual farmers or, better still, co-ordinate larger groups of farmers to understand what they can or should do to improve the situation across a wider area. Getting this kind of co-operative working needs to be a key role of a Defra-funded environmental co-ordinator."

“Once new schemes are active and working, we need their environmental impact properly monitored, just as the CRT does on my farm and other farms it owns. There’s been precious little of this in the past, and it’s important that these schemes make a difference, and are seen to be doing so. I’d like to see independent wildlife monitoring, with bonus payments given if, as the scheme matures, a positive impact on biodiversity is recorded."

Undertaking wildlife monitoring across the farmland involved and highlighting areas of best practice will go a long way to help all farmers improve what they’re doing for nature. It will also reassure the public that taxpayers money spent this way is having a direct benefit for nature. Without monitoring, assessment, and shared practice, the success of any new schemes simply can’t be measured.

“When schemes are assessed by Defra, it’s essential they look at the biodiversity impact of what’s happening within the farmland, rather than obsessing about precise measurements that are effectively meaningless to the wildlife it’s benefiting,” says Tim. “They need to come with binoculars, not tape measures.”