New announcements for DEFRA's Environmental Land Management Schemes
Today George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, addressed the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) to outline his plans for sustainable farming in the UK.
This followed details released yesterday by Defra on the plans to restore 300,000 hectares of habitat across England via two new environmental land management schemes - the Local Nature Recovery scheme and the Landscape Recovery scheme.
The Soil Association welcomes the plans to reward farmers and landowners for delivering benefits to the environment. But the Environmental Land Management Schemes still risk falling short of the transformational change needed. To drive that change, we need clearer, quantified targets, such as for reducing pesticide and artificial nitrogen fertiliser.
The government must also acknowledge that these schemes won’t work in isolation. They risk failure if they are forced to compete with mounting commercial pressures that encourage more intensive farming and cheap food production, for which the environment and our health ultimately pays the price.
Today's speech at the Oxford Farming Conference
In Mr Eustice's speech, he highlighted the importance of healthy soils, commenting that "the way we manage our soils is inexplicitly linked to the quality of our water courses", which has a "direct impact" on many protected sites. He also stressed that "we cannot deliver our targets on new woodland creation or our ambition to restore natural habitats unless there’s a degree of land-use change".
Responding to his words, our Director of Policy and Strategy, Jo Lewis said: “We heard lots of encouraging words from the Secretary of State today about the importance of soil health, but it is concerning to see a slide in ambition with the target to bring 60% of soils under sustainable management by 2030. This is well short of the initial 100% target that was set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan. If soil is so central to the sustainable farming incentives, why is almost half of it not going to be managed sustainably this decade?
“We welcome the focus on tree planting, but we recognise that farmers are concerned about farmland being taken out of food production and used to grow trees. We do not have to choose between one or the other, and farmers should be helped to reap the many rewards trees can deliver. Mr Eustice could win more farmer backing by focusing less on changes in land use and instead incentivising agroforestry - enabling farmers to combine their crops or livestock with trees in a farmer-led tree revolution.
“The commitment to substantial payment rates that will truly encourage farmers to farm sustainably is hugely welcome, but they will be up against mounting commercial pressures, including trade deals that do not favour British farmers. A strong government response to the National Food Strategy that prioritises sustainable and healthy diets across the food chain will be key to making these schemes work.”