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Nidderdale AONB Hay Making (c) Paul Harris

Farming for the Nation: Environmental Land Management Scheme


Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty wrapped up their Environmental Land Management Scheme Tests and Trials (Ts&Ts) at the end of 2020 and the full report on their findings is available to download below.

  View the Final Summary Report   View the Ts&Ts aggregated conclusions (external website)

Key findings from the AONB T&Ts findings demonstrated clearly the value of advisors from AONB teams. They were able to put the landholding into the wider landscape which in turn gave farmers confidence to develop a more impactful and higher value agreement both financially for them, and in terms of delivering more for nature. 

The huge variety in landscape types, from coastal to upland, which were unique to the AONB project in the Ts&Ts process, enabled reporting on the most effective ways for the ELMS to reward farmers more equitably, particularly in those areas where earlier farm payment schemes have been more challenging to deliver.

Main conclusions of the AONB T&Ts were:

  • AONB teams’ relationships with their farming and land managing communities have built up over many years and continue to deepen. The development of Local Nature Recovery Strategies and AONBs’ own Nature Recovery Plans will sharpen the land management focus of AONB Management Plans. This will enable AONB teams to provide additional value to their local farmers and landowners as ELMS is rolled out,
  • Farmers’ collaboration on the co-design of guidance is essential to ensure their practical management knowledge and experience can influence how outcomes are achieved on the ground,
  • Access to good quality environmental data on the current extent and condition of environmental assets is essential,
  • Generally speaking, most farmers and landowners would prefer to work with an advisor to develop their Land Management Plans,
  • Land Management Plans should be non-technical, adaptable, working documents, based around a map showing current assets and a table of opportunities linking management actions to the public goods produced,
  • An understanding of the farm business and its current financial situation is an essential part of the Land Management Planning process,
  • There should be a simple set of indicators which farmers can use to check on progress in achieving environmental outcomes, with specialist support and coordination for landscape scale impact, where payments are linked to land management actions rather than outcome,
  • Environmental Land Management in AONBs should support nature-friendly farming (‘land sharing’) in preference to dividing land use between high intensity food production and reserves set aside for nature (‘land sparing’).

The 34 English AONB teams work collaboratively to share ideas and learning so results and detailed practical learnings from the T&Ts will benefit AONB teams and farmers and landowners throughout the entire network, which totals 15% of England’s land area.  

While the common theme throughout the AONB T&Ts was the use of Land Management Plans to map where natural capital gains could be made, the projects also incorporated innovative explorations into how the ELMS could support:

  • protection of heritage features,
  • improved access for more diverse groups,
  • natural flood and drought management practices, 
  • natural capital enhancement in wine growing,

and specifics such as:

  • developing effective guidance for managing gorse scrubland on chalk downland
  • testing new to market soil scanning technologies to establish whether they produce consistent results

Benefits of a landscape approach to land management

The AONB T&Ts were unusual in being the only ones delivered by an England-wide collective, covering the widest possible variety of landscape types, from coast to upland. They were co-designed by AONB teams and their local farmers and landowners working together. This collaborative approach, coupled with AONB teams’ detailed knowledge of local species and nature recovery challenges enabled them to be trusted brokers on behalf of their local farmers – able to translate landscape scale requirements into practical, deliverable bespoke interventions at farm and field scale.

The opportunities to maximise environmental gains by collaborating in this way are enormous.

The work of each AONB team is guided by its Management Plan – a statutory document which marries together overarching national public policy (which in the next set of Management Plans will also include the aims of the ELMS) and detailed knowledge of the distinctive landscape, conservation priorities and traditions of the local area. Management Plans are subject to local consultation when they are renewed every five years, making them a democratically derived, place-based strategy for the conservation and enhancement of a whole landscape, underpinned with regard for its natural beauty.