Environment payment scheme will not be scrapped, says Defra

3:50 p.m. September 27, 2022

The government insists it will not abandon its flagship eco-premium scheme for farmers – and dismisses rumors of an imminent policy reversal.

Defra has been forced to refute claims that it plans to water down its new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) after launching a “quick review” of the policy.

The three-tier system, which would reward farmers and landowners for sustainable practices and nature improvement work, aims to replace the EU system of land-based subsidies, which will expire after Brexit.

Reports that the new team of ministers appointed by Prime Minister Liz Truss could change it or return to an area-based payment system sparked an angry backlash from conservation and wildlife groups.

But in an online blog, Defra said she “does not intend to reverse our commitment to the environment,” adding, “We are not canceling the programs.

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“Given the pressures farmers are facing from the current global economic climate, including spikes in input costs, it is only right that we look at how best to implement the programs to see where and how improvements are made be able.”

A government spokesman added: “Claims that we intend to back down our commitment to the environment are simply not accurate.

“A strong environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. We have legislated through the Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision.”

Farming leaders in East Anglia welcomed the review of the environmental funding scheme, saying it was not ‘fit for purpose’ at this time – but Norfolk’s conservation authorities warned any review ‘poses a risk to wildlife’.

Zoe Leach, National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Regional Director, said: “We believe this is the right time for the Government to review its framework for future farm programs.

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“We need to ensure farms are supported by the current economic challenges and can make a difference for both food production and the environment.

Zoe Leach is the Regional Director for East Anglia at the National Farmers' Union

Zoe Leach is the Regional Director for East Anglia at the National Farmers’ Union
– Photo credit: Charlotte Bond

“The NFU supports the policy of ‘public money for public goods’, but in its current form the system is not fit for purpose or operational.

“We await further details on this review and stand ready to work in partnership to develop a framework that enables farmers to produce food for the nation and improve our environment.”

But Helen Baczkowska, acting conservation manager at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said any review of ELMS posed “a risk to wildlife and the well-being of Norfolk communities”.

“The development of ELMS has been a long and painstaking process in consultation with groups such as farmers, land managers and conservationists, including wildlife trusts,” she said.

“Although the program still needs to be strengthened further, it is a solid foundation from which to work for wildlife. It is science-based, evidence-led and based on good principles, including the recognition that wildlife-friendly agriculture benefits both food production and the provision of other environmental services.

“Reconsidering ELMS at this stage must not undo many years of hard work and listening from farmers and conservation groups. Any dilution or delay in the existing program could impact the support farmers and landowners need to help restore Norfolk’s wildlife and natural landscape.”