Latest Updates (click/tap titles to expand)
ELM Test & Trial update, January - March 2020
Towards the end of 2019, contractors were engaged and contracts signed.
Activity to date from January to March 2020 has been delivered in 3 key areas:
- Engaging with farmers and landowners to confirm participation in the T&T. 200 farms have agreed to take part to date, with more to be recruited. AONB teams are specifically selecting participants from a diverse range of backgrounds to test ELM in different settings.
- Gathering environmental data to underpin individual Landscape Management Plans and wider landscape frameworks.
- Reviewing existing plans to help guide special prioritisation. In most cases the trial areas have now been defined. AONB Management Plans area a key part of this process for all 12 projects.
In addition to the 5 initial learnings presented in the infographic above, there are consistent themes that run across the 12 projects.
Firstly, preliminary studies have shown that AONB Management Plans function well in their main role; that of creating a continuous thread joining national and local priorities. As anticipated, work is needed to bridge the gap between coarse-grained Management Plans and setting detailed priorities for farm/field-scale ELM agreements. The T&T will continue to address closing this gap effectively, including reinterpretation of data by experts, surveying to fill geographic gaps, and identifying innovative approaches to gathering relevant datasets.
Secondly, the AONBs are being innovative in their response to communication challenges as a result of Covid-19. All 12 projects quickly started looking at new ways of communicating to keep on track, and plans will continue to evolve depending on the degree of lockdown sustained over the coming months.
In a similar vein, although the online ELM consultation has been paused during the virus outbreak, the NAAONB continues to work closely with Natural England and the National Parks to ensure an aligned response is ready when consultation is re-opened.
Last but not least, projects report a strong willingness from participants to engage with the T&T process, and a desire to overcome what they perceive as the shortcomings of previous schemes. Firm foundations have been laid despite difficult conditions, enabling rapid progress as and when the situation allows.
Key points from Defra
- Defra’s ELM consultation has been paused due to Covid-19. The location of the survey (when it reopens) is here.
- To aid the transition to ELM, Defra strongly recommends that interested parties apply for the new format Countryside Stewardship (CS) Scheme to maintain income as BPS payments are phased out. It will support transition to ELM, and leaving CS early to move to ELM will be facilitated.
- There will be additional support outside of ELM available during the transition period:
- Funding will be made available for animal welfare activities, targeted at farmers who want to significantly raise their standard of husbandry.
- Investment support will be available for equipment and technology that enables increases in productivity.
- Defra will be supporting research and development food projects that deliver environmental benefits.
As we receive more information on funding we will update this page.
ELM Test & Trial update, April - June 2020
Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the ELM T&T during Q1 (April-June 2020). Engagement with farmers and land managers and survey visits have been impossible, and so the NAAONB has reached agreement with Defra to defer some milestones. But that’s not the whole picture – desk research and online meetings have continued, along with collaboration and joint learning between the 12 projects. However, this has altered the balance of people taking part – a more mature audience tends to favour face-to-face meetings, while younger farmers tend to be more comfortable embracing new technology.
This quarterly update focusses on:
- Gathering environmental data to support spatial prioritisation and Land Management Plans (LMPs)
- Engaging with farmers and land managers to co-design LMP processes, and the need for advice and guidance and collaboration across landscapes
- Reviewing existing plans and policies and engaging with statutory partners and other partners to test approaches for spatial collaboration, advice and monitoring.
5 key learning points from this quarter
1. Using AONB Management Plans and other local strategic documents as spatial frameworks for ELM delivery
AONB statutory Management Plans are important in setting the high-level strategic objectives for ELM in their areas, and established partnerships in AONBs will support development of farm-scale guidance. Management Plans can be combined with a wide range of other local plans, but together they aren’t ambitious or broad enough to address the goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan. New thinking is required: Local Nature Recover Strategies will address some areas, but public goods such as beauty, heritage and engagement lie outside their remit and require further local work.
2. Use of data and other evidence at a landscape and holding scale
Spatial data that maps current natural capital assets is key to ELM targeting and monitoring, and development of LMPs. Much of the data collated is old or unreliable at holding scale. Inaccurate data can be worse than no data; projects have therefore identified new datasets that will need to be collected.
3. Using local knowledge to interpret data
Not surprisingly, the T&T projects have confirmed that local knowledge is needed to make sense of data. That might take the form of input from specialist bodies such as the Environment Agency and Local Authority archaeology teams, who understand the implications of their own data. However, this needs balance as relying on these inputs risks 'baking-in' long held assumptions that may no longer be valid. Objective data analysis and stakeholder engagement both have a role to play in ELM spatial prioritisation.
4. Translating policy documents into 'farmer-facing' guidance on ELM priorities
There was widespread agreement at national webinars that spatial priorities must be presented simply in a way that allows farmers and land managers to identify what they can do on their own land. The Forest of Bowland (Northern Uplands) project has started to prepare succinct and farmer-focussed 'Statements of ELM Priorities' covering topics such as habitats, natural processes and climate change.
5. Skills sets required from advisers
The three North Pennines projects have found that Land Management Planning is a multi-disciplinary skill. It requires a good level of technical knowledge including IT and ecology, as well as an understanding of policies and familiarity with farming systems. This suggests that in each area a cadre of well-networked specialists, who can cross-refer their services and specialist knowledge, will be needed.
A brief summary of activity in each of the 12 projects
Farmer ambassadors started talking to peer farmers in March to secure their participation but were halted by Covid-19. Work is ongoing as restrictions ease.
Data gathering: ArcGIS mapping has been completed on Cornish hedges and open water/wetland habitats. This will feed into the next farmer workshop.
Liaison with farmers: 3 workshops were held focussing on developing the priority natural capital objectives for the Lizard.
Landscape scale management plan: work with the farmer group to refine priority objectives will feed into the plan.
Data mapping: Cropping patterns, boundaries and land cover data is being analysed by Exeter University to feed into farm case study work.
Workshops: In lieu of face-to-face meetings, 3 presentations were recorded and sent to farmers who then filled in a questionnaire, and the results were analysed (visit this page for more information on farmers’ thoughts about ELM across England). Links to presentations:
9 out of 16 farms have been surveyed – it is anticipated the remaining surveys will be completed early in Q2. Not being able to have ‘farm kitchen chats’ is likely to impact relationships with farmers.
Collective working opportunities have been identified for the completed surveys, and will be added to when the remainder are finished.
Feedback from 3 online workshops has fed into the development of a brief to commission data mapping services. This will be used to produce a draft Strategic Landscape Plan for further comment and refinement in a co-creation approach.
Farm advisors have been canvassed for their views on scrub management.
Kent Downs #1
Access to the countryside
Members of two groups have been recruited:
A smaller core from within these 2 groups will form the basis for a series of case studies investigating how ELM can be used to support public access.
A literature review has enabled targeting of specific groups to work with.
Kent Downs #2
Climate resilient water management
A database of measures that could be paid for by ELM has been created. It includes information to help land managers decide on appropriate options, e.g. price, planning constraints, and the impact on other natural capital.
HydroloGIS mapping has been carried out in the Stour and Darent catchments to identify and rank areas for different measures.
Kent Downs #3
A research team has been recruited, which will carry out academic research to identify how viticulture can provide public goods in ways that are not currently common in vineyards.
As of June, eight 1-1 interviews with vineyard managers have been conducted to look in more detail at interventions that could be considered best practice.
A study has researched the impacts on landscapes of an expanding viticulture sector.
Three viticulture groups have been formed and are proving particularly useful in providing an evidence base for the research.
14 of the 19 farms have had assessments completed, looking at existing direct and agri-environment payments, and off-farm income. As of mid-June, 10 of these have been analysed, and the next stage is to discuss the findings with individual farmers.
Forest of Bowland
Natural capital and ecosystems audits have been carried out on the 6 Forest of Bowland participating farms.
A desk-based audit has been carried out for each of the 6 Nidderdale farms. Telephone interviews have provided a wealth of background information prior to site visits which are also complete. The process of identifying the new surveys needed has started.
Analysis of the existing datasets for the 7 North Pennines farms was followed by phone conversations and farm walkovers. Gaps in data have been identified, including bat, riverfly and dung beetle surveys.
Working in association with FWAG SW and the Somerset Environmental Records Centre, public good priorities have been identified from the AONB management plan. This will feed into a spatial framework that will target delivery of ELMS to meet these priorities.
A draft Land Management Plan format has been developed and a webinar planned to get farmers’ feedback.
Indicator species have been identified and data on them collated from local, regional and national organisations. Farmers and landowners will have an opportunity to add to this list of species at upcoming workshops.
25 draft maps covering species and habitat have been produced.
Three technologies have been identified that could be consistent with hand sampling methodologies, which could enable upscaling capacity for assessing the natural capital position of soil.
15 farms covering a wide range of environments have been identified for participation, 5 of which have long-term soils datasets. Sampling has been delayed by wet soil conditions and Covid19.
The NAAONB hosted 2 webinars on spatial prioritisation, the findings of which can be found here.
Defra’s 6 T&T Themes
Read on for a summary of activity according to Defra’s key themes.
Theme A: Development of Land Management Plans (LMPs).
This is a key ELM theme: LMPs are the backbone of activities carried out by farmers, and will form the contract for local delivery of the scheme.
Involvement of farmers and land managers in the co-design of LMPs
Working closely with farmers and landowners has produced these early results:
- Engagement – a direct approach by letter in the Blackdown Hills (in areas with historically low agri-environment scheme engagement) hasn’t produced any interest from farmers. Contact via respected farmer ambassadors is proving much more successful.
- Complexity – in Dorset, farmers feel current and previous screens are too complex and they would prefer bespoke arrangements with a list of ‘do’s and don’ts’. A basic set of clear rules with practical suggestions would be welcomed.
- In Cornwall, farmers have discussed spatial mapping of natural capital, and how this can help with spatial targeting of specific outcomes. They were reluctant to put lines on a map if it meant neighbours were excluded, preferring options to be open to all.
- In the Kent Downs natural flood management project, the catchment-scale approach means significant decision-making support must be made available to farmers to help them make decisions that will have consequences beyond their boundaries.
- In Cranborne Chase, the key concern raised during an online survey was how to run a farm as a profitable business while providing public goods. The survey also revealed wide differences in willingness or capacity to provide different public goods.
- The survey identified the top management practices farmers would be willing to undertake: wildlife habitat and soil management, planting trees for carbon capture, and reducing nitrogen, ammonia or pesticide applications. At the opposite end of the scale, were management of freshwater systems and water quality.
- Enhanced public access – meetings with organisations that can speak for under-represented groups found that simply providing solutions top-down is unlikely to be successful. Groups need to be consulted to develop their own ways of accessing the countryside.
Use of data and other evidence in the production of Land Management Plans
Early findings from the Northern Uplands project include:
- Some of the datasets needed are difficult to access, incomplete or inaccurate. Handling this in a way that ensures good land management decisions can be made is a challenge.
- Compounding this, in some instances (e.g. soil health there) is no standard metric for assessment, meaning a new system must be created based on what will work for ELM.
- The Cranborne Chase survey indicated that almost ¾ of farmers hold data for their farms: surveys, cropping data and maps were common. Soil analysis and bird surveys were frequent, while butterfly and water quality were at the bottom of the list. Overwhelmingly, however, the condition of natural features is estimated visually and by experience rather than by survey.
- The Kent Downs natural flood management project has identified that for ELM success, technical assessment at a detailed spatial resolution will be needed to contribute to effective catchment-wide outcomes.
- In the Northern Uplands it has become clear that generating an LMP will be an iterative process of several rounds of feedback and amendment between the farmer, ELM analyst and farm business analyst.
Theme B: Spatial Prioritisation
You can read a ‘Common Threads’ section on spatial prioritisation here.
Theme C: Advice and Guidance
Conclusions from 2 workshops on advice and guidance can be found here. Specific findings by the 3 very different Kent Downs projects include:
- The Kent Downs natural flood management project is working in 2 river catchments, necessitating involvement from the Environment Agency, Internal Drainage Boards, South East Rivers Trust, Kent Wildlife Trust, Countryside Management Partnerships, County Council Flood and Water Management team and more. Advice and guidance must therefore balance the needs of competing priorities.
- Specialist areas such as the viticulture sector need to have best practice embedded in ELM advice – there is an appetite for embracing new practices, and good information will facilitate this.
- Enhanced advice will be needed to support enhanced access. Achieving better access is likely to need more detailed advice, guidance and specialist input; creating new, general access routes may just require best practice guidance, whereas bespoke guidance and consultation is likely to be needed to meet the needs of specific target user groups.
Theme D: Payments
It is early in the life of the project - in-depth work on payments will take place later on. However, the Kent Downs enhanced access project has identified a range of items public funding could pay for:
- The capital costs of improving infrastructure to provide better access – car parking, paths, signage, fencing to protect ecologically sensitive sites, toilets.
- Maintenance costs including upkeep of capital items, path upkeep, enhancement, and general management of access arrangements.
- Provision of staff to guide access in high demand areas.
- Compensation for land lost, e.g. in the creation of paths.
- Payment for additional legal liabilities incurred by creating permissive access.
Theme E: Innovation and Delivery Solutions
None of the projects have addressed this theme in any detail in this reporting period.
Theme F: Collaboration
The Dorset and Cranborne Chase projects have both started working on collaboration:
- Dorset AONB is starting to examine peer-to-peer learning, looking at complex margins and arable plots with a view to sharing best practice across facilitation funds or farm clusters. A key finding is that farmers want advisers to have up-to-date certification before they will consider using them. Farmer groups should provide group work and also 1-1 tailored advice.
- Cranborne Chase AONB surveyed landowners about working across boundaries, and found that 43% were strongly in favour and 46% somewhat in favour, with only one opposing it. Comments recognised the advantages of working with nature at landscape scale. Provisos included the provision of financial payments to enable multi-holding collaboration, and easing the bureaucratic burden by avoiding applications by each farm taking part.
We will develop these themes as the T&T progresses – come back regularly to find out more about results.
Defra announcement: The Agricultural Transition Period (30 November 2020)
On Monday 30th November Defra published its plans for the agricultural transition period (ATP) which will run from 2021 to 2027. During that time BPS will gradually be reduced and will finish completely when the Environmental Land Management scheme starts in 2028. There are a number of schemes farmers can apply for to support their income as BPS is phased out.
The AONB Tests and Trials will conclude as planned in June 2021, and the results will continue to be used to support the design of E.L.M. during the pilot phase and beyond.
- Defra’s press release gives an overview and is available here.
- The leaflet for farmers and land managers is here.
- The document that lays out detailed plans for the agricultural transition period is The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024.
- Defra’s social media assets can be downloaded here.
- Defra’s pack for advisers is here.
Come back soon for more updates!
We are currently preparing the next quarterly update, so stay tuned!