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Nidderdale AONB Hay Making (c) Paul Harris

Farming for the Nation: Environmental Land Management Scheme

ELMS - What happened

A group of 12 AONBs is playing a key part in the design of Defra’s new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). One of 44 Defra Tests and Trials nationwide, the AONB programme 'Farming for the Nation' (coordinated by the NAAONB) is made possible by the high level of collaboration across the network. It brings together hundreds of farmers across thousands of acres of land in a wide range of settings to test proposed elements of the new system, providing significant input for the scheme’s development ahead of its implementation in 2024.

The ELMS Programme

The current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) provides financial support to farmers based on standardised area payments. With the advent of Brexit, the UK is taking the opportunity to replace BPS with a new environment-based scheme which will reward farmers and landowners for making improvements that benefit the environment. It has the potential to be a step change in the way high-quality landscapes are conserved and restored, leading to the farming community creating significant environmental benefits.

The basis for the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) is ‘public money for public goods’. The definition of public goods is that they have no economic market, and are available to all. Included (amongst others) are clean air and water, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, flood mitigation, access to nature, cultural heritage and nature recovery.

The ELMS programme is managed by Defra and is a cornerstone of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which aims to leave the environment in better condition than at the outset of the programme. See a recent presentation from Defra for more details.

BPS will be phased out from 2021, and ELMS will be rolled out from 2024 onwards. 

(source: Defra)

Key Aims

  • BPS does not incentivise sustainable land management, whereas ELMS will focus on improvements to the environment, and reward farmers and landowners for conserving and enhancing their land.
  • There is a minimum landholding size for BPS which prevents some businesses from taking part. ELMS will be designed for all, regardless of the scale of the holding, experience or background. A tiered structure is likely, with the lowest tier focussing on farm-scale activity, and the top tier encompassing landscape-wide collaborative improvements.A group of people and a dog in a field.
  • ELMS will reduce the complexity of the application process.
  • Key motivators are being studied to ensure maximum participation.
  • Defra is committed to building trusting relationships between government and farmers.
  • The system will foster innovation and encourage innovation and new practices that develop over time.
  • Advice and guidance will be available to all participants.
  • Various payment schemes are being tested, to allow blending of public and private funding.
Photo (c) Blackdown Hills AONB 

Tests and Trials

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Defra has instigated a programme of Tests and Trials (T&T) to look at various aspects of ELMS ahead of implementation. AT least 45 projects supporting the design of the ELMS scheme are taking place, with more on the way; a key focus is to look at various mechanisms for producing Land Management Plans, the ‘contract’ that defines the actions the landowner/farmer will undertake to improve their local environment. These plans will be created on a farm scale, and will identify local needs in support of national priorities.


Photo (c) Tracy Adams

The AONB Test and Trial

12 AONBs are joining together in the one of the few collaborative T&Ts in the country (you can find out more about the projects in the Prezi below). It is also the only trial that is looking at ELMS across a number of geographical areas, encompassing a range of environmental settings. The trial started in the autumn of 2019 and is scheduled to conclude in June 2021.

The trial’s strategic objectives tie in with Defra’s six T&T research themes:

Farming for the Nation Strategic Objectives Defra Themes
1 AONB MANAGEMENT PLANS AS STRATEGIC SPATIAL FRAMEWORKS. To trial, with stakeholders, the role of AONB Management Plans as strategic spatial frameworks for informing and targeting the delivery of public goods through ELMS. Spatial prioritisation ; Collaboration
2 INTEGRATED LAND MANAGEMENT PLANS. To co-design, with land mangers, integrated ELMS Land Management Plans that work at the land holding and farm cluster scale, derived from AONB Management Plans. Land Management Plans ; Spatial prioritisation
3 INDICATORS FOR SUCCESS. To co-develop a series of self-assessed indicators of success for schemes that farmers understand and can use. Advice & guidance ; Innovative delivery
4 MONITORING, VERIFICATION AND PAYMENT TRIGGER. To co-develop and test a monitoring and verification payment system. Payments ; Innovative delivery
5 TESTING GUIDANCE. To test with stakeholders the scope and ability for the new ELMS system to deliver broad and innovative multiple environmental, social and economic objectives as identified in the 25 Year Environment Plan. Advice & guidance
6 EVALUATING COLLABORATION. To test the efficacy of collaborative working across and between protected landscapes. Collaboration

Press play on the presentation below to discover each individual project at your leasure (we recommend pressing the expand button when viewing from a phone).

Why are AONBs key?

In the decades since their creation, AONBs have worked in partnership with a wide range of local stakeholders, building strong relationships along the way. They form a thread that connects farmers, landowners, wildlife charities and individuals. This diversity, connectedness and high level of engagement facilitates collaboration between farmers, and will support the definition of the local actions needed to match landscape-scale priorities.

There is a statutory requirement for each AONB to produce a Management Plan every 5 years, which sets out plans to conserve, enhance and re-create thriving, diverse landscapes and heritage. A Management Plan brings together local and national priorities to steer activities within the AONB.

One of the aims of the AONB Test and Trial is to study how Management Plans can be used as a basis for developing farm-scale ELMS Land Management Plans. There is a spatial gap between comparatively coarse-grained AONB Management Plans and the detailed initiatives needed as part of an ELMS agreement, and bridging this gap is a key focus of the project.

AONBs have a long track record of delivering nature conservation and recovery. Most recently, in 2019 all 46 AONBs committed to the aims of The Colchester Declaration, setting out their strategy for change to ‘significantly increase the scale and pace of nature conservation activity in AONBs’. The Declaration is aligned to the aims of ELMS, and activities from the two initiatives will be mutually supportive.

The 46 AONBs work collaboratively to share ideas and learning. Individuals have their own areas of expertise and readily provide advice to other teams, fostering a culture of innovation and the ability to respond quickly to changing circumstances. The results of the T&T will be shared across the network as the T&T progresses to ensure maximum impact on ELMS design.

  • (c) Petra Billings

    (c) Petra Billings

  • (c) Paul Harris, Nidderdale AONB

    (c) Paul Harris, Nidderdale AONB

  • (c) Tracy Adams

    (c) Tracy Adams

  • (c) Tracy Adams

    (c) Tracy Adams

  • (c) Surrey Hills AONB

    (c) Surrey Hills AONB

  • (c) East Devon AONB

    (c) East Devon AONB

The future

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Tests and Trials will be followed by a pilot phase, which will run from 2021-2024. The pilot will be a large-scale real-life test of the new system, including creation of Land Management Plans and testing of the associated payment levels, allowing for modifications prior to rollout of the final scheme. Applications to take part in the pilot will open in 2021, but Defra is welcoming expressions of interest now. The T&T process will continue alongside the pilot to enable Defra to test new ideas that arise.

Photo (c) Cornwall AONB