Reform of subsidies to farms in England with the aim of returning land to nature


Plans to return land to nature nearly twice the size of London over the next two decades will be outlined by ministers on Thursday as they review English post-Brexit agricultural subsidies.

Applications will open for the first 15 “landscape restoration” projects – the most ambitious tranches of government plans to pay farmers and landowners for environmental work – as part of changes announced by George Eustice, secretary of the environment.

These initial projects will aim to restore 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat and save carbon emissions equivalent to 25,000 cars, while improving the habitat of about half of England’s most endangered species, including the water vole, sand lizard and Eurasian meander.

The landscape recovery scheme will pay farmers for “radical” changes in land and habitat use, such as the establishment of nature reserves, the restoration of floodplains and the creation of large forests or wetlands.

The new subsidy programs will aim to restore 300,000 hectares of wildlife habitat by 2042, an area almost twice the size of the capital. They will also include incentives for sustainable agriculture, which will pay landowners measures such as reducing fertilizer use and a more ambitious “local nature recovery” program focused on projects such as peatland restoration.

“We want to see profitable agricultural enterprises producing nutritious food, supporting a growing rural economy, where nature is recovering and where people have better access to it,” Eustice said.

But agricultural groups say the policy still lacks the details needed to allow farmers to plan ahead, as they face a gradual reduction in EU-style land-based subsidies by 2028 and the abolition of existing environmental programs.

Tom Bradshaw, vice president of the National Farmers Union, said more information was needed to enable farmers to make “key long-term decisions that [were] key to running sustainable and profitable businesses ”.

Julia Aglionby, president of the Uplands Alliance, said farmers and landowners “remain in the dark about how to ‘watch out for the yawning gap’ between [EU-style subsidies] gradually abolish and [the new scheme’s] Introduction.”

She described the restoration goal as “very unambitious”, noting that 300,000 hectares restored for wildlife is less than 3 per cent of England’s land area, and expressed concern over the lack of any financial commitments outside this parliament.

Politicians also lack pay to work on improving cultural heritage or access to education, she added, despite earlier promises that it would be included.

The three largest UK nature conservation charities – the Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust and the RSPB – said Brexit was a “golden opportunity” to manage land for nature, but that it was “in danger” due to a lack of detail.

Farmers, especially those involved in livestock farming, have relied heavily on EU subsidies for decades, amounting to more than £ 1.6 billion a year in England. Ministers have pledged to maintain overall levels of subsidies as they shift payments under the new systems.


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