Government set to scrap nature’s ‘Brexit bonus’ for farmers | Agriculture

The government must scrap the ‘Brexit bonus’ which would have paid farmers and landowners to improve nature, in what wildlife groups call an ‘all-out attack’ on the environment, the Observer can reveal.

Instead, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) sources have revealed that they plan to pay landowners a fixed annual sum for each acre of land they own, which would be similar to the much maligned EU basic payments scheme of the Common Agricultural Regime. Politics.

The Environment Land Management Scheme (Elms), devised by former environment secretary Michael Gove, was designed to encourage farmers to create space for rare species including wading birds and dormice, as well as to absorb carbon to help England reach its net zero target. Pilot projects have created rare habitats and brought back species such as nightingales, beavers and the white stork.

Now landowners and land managers who have been part of Elms have told the Observer that meetings with the government about their land have been removed from the agenda while the program is on hiatus.

Defra sources have confirmed that the Elms measures are being reviewed and area-based payment is on the table.

Daniel Zeichner, Labor MP for Cambridge and shadow agriculture minister, said it was a “complete betrayal of something they believe will be one of the main benefits of Brexit”. Many farmers had changed the way they used their land due to the upcoming Elms requirements.

He added: “Any overthrow of the regime would be very disruptive for the sector; we agreed with the general direction, although we thought the government was moving too quickly.

“It’s a complete step back from their promises, and to tear it up without any consultation would be nothing short of senseless vandalism.”

Prominent Tory Ben Goldsmith, a former Defra board member, said he was disgusted by the plans. He commented: “There are rumors that the government is considering reviving an old grant scheme in which landowners across the country will be paid per acre of land they own, no matter how much they take. care. In 2022 – surely not.

“A system governed by the principle of public money (only) for the environmental public good is a much better idea than unconditional subsidies for landowners. Let’s hope the government sticks to it.

Groups of wild animals are about to revolt against the move. Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, which has 860,000 members, said: ‘They have no democratic mandate to do this, it was in the election manifesto. What you saw in last week’s space is that Liz Truss’ government basically trashed all of the environmental commitments that were in the 2019 manifesto.

“If now this government goes back to area-based payments then they will have abandoned the only silver lining around Brexit which might have been good for the environment. It looks like there is an all-out attack on the environment under the government of Liz Truss.

Shaun Spiers, executive director of Green Alliance, said: “I can’t believe a government committed to ‘the most ambitious environmental program of any country on Earth’ would do something so reckless with government money. taxpayers. This would make the budget look like a model of caution and prudence.

View of the lake at the Knepp Estate Wildland in West Sussex, England. Photograph: Gillian Pullinger/Alamy

Isabella Tree, who runs the Knepp estate in Sussex, was meant to operate one of the government’s flagship landscape recovery schemes. His region is a pioneer in nature-friendly agriculture and benefits from funding for nature restoration. She is the author of perhaps the world’s best-known rewilding manual, Savagery.

She said: ‘Elms has been four years of deep thinking about the future, millions of hours spent by thousands of people from all sectors, on how we can reform land management so we don’t destroy the systems we depend on, so we have an agronomy, land base and natural resources that will sustain us for generations to come.

“For once, there was a long-term vision on the part of the government. And to think that all of that effort, all that time, that dedication, and that deep understanding is just pushed aside, it’s amazing. »

The National Farmers Union has opposed plans to pay farmers for conservation programs rather than food production.

Minette Batters, the president of the NFU, welcomed Elms’ departure. “My top priority is to ensure that farmers can continue to produce the nation’s food – so I support maintaining direct payments in order to build a program that will truly serve food production and the environment,” he said. she declared.

A Defra spokesperson did not deny the change needed to take place and said:

“To boost the rural economy, food production and our food security, we will continue to support farmers and land managers by reviewing agricultural regulations, stimulating investment and innovation in the sector.”

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