The new Environmental Land Management Scheme

The government’s new environmental land management scheme, referred to as ELMs, is due to be fully rolled out at the end of 2024. It will replace schemes that are currently available under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

The ELMs is aimed at promoting environmental ambitions in the agricultural sector, and the Agriculture Bill will, in time, provide the legislation which will underpin the scheme. The government’s hope seems to be to promote the ELMs as a support for the rural economy whilst helping maintain food security and achieving the goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan.

It is hoped that the ELMs will be a powerful tool for rewarding the delivery of environmental public good and should sit alongside other mechanisms, such as regulations, to form part of a wider agricultural system.

Based on the ELMs policy discussion document it appears that some of the issues experienced by users of the existing schemes such as penalties and compliance requirements being proportionate to one another, timely payments, and having access to effective advisory services, are being acknowledged and the intention is to build on the lessons learnt to create a new effective scheme.

The ELMs is currently being discussed as a three-tier system:

Tier 1: encouraging environmentally sustainable farming and forestry. The intention appears to be that this tier will be attractive to farmers across the country by paying them to maintain and adopt effective actions to address environmental impacts of farming and forestry practices. For example, by implementing: field margins; cover crops; efficient water use; pest management; and oil management.

Tier 2: locally targeted environmental outcomes with reliance on collaboration between land managers. This will target agreed outcomes in strategic locations and encourage collaboration between farmers and other land managers perhaps to achieve management of land that delivers more complex outcomes. For example, by: hedge planting; habitat creation/restoration; natural flood management; recreation infrastructure; and education infrastructure.

Tier 3: landscape scale land-use change projects. This is intended for use to deliver projects that change land uses over and above tiers 1 and 2, focussing on substantial contributions to environmental commitments such as nature recovery and net zero targets. For example, by: forest and woodland creation; restoring peatland; and addressing habitats in wetlands and salt marshes.

The government appears keen to avoid repeating mistakes that have already been made by the existing schemes so they plan to pilot the approach in 2021 over a three-year period ahead of rolling out the ELMs in 2024. 

The consultation on the ELMs closed in July 2020 and the feedback is now being reviewed and analysed.

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