What’s going on here?

Under the EU, BUnder the EU, British farmers received grants through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Following Brexit, the government has promised to introduce the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), consisting of: The Sustainable Farming Incentive, Landscape Recovery and Local Nature Recovery schemes. ELMs promises the restoration of 300,000 hectares of land 2042 by paying farmers and landowners to conserve woodlands, wetlands, and peatlands.

These post-Brexit plans are part of the government’s goal to reach Net Zero by 2050, and have been discussed by ministers this week. The scheme has been criticised as being over-ambitious and lacking detail, creating concern amongst farming groups and conservationists alike.

What does this mean?

EU subsidies account for more than half of all farm income. Due to Brexit, these payments will be phased out: halved by 2025 and removed completely by 2027. There has been no clear information on how farmers’ reduced income from CAP and decreased food production will be mitigated. This is of particular concern for small-scale farmers who often operate on very small profit margins. ELMS may even prompt farmers to increase the amount of land they farm to compensate for lost income, reversing any benefits to the environment and biodiversity.

There are also no standardised methods to measure the impacts on biodiversity. Farmers are being paid for their actions, regardless of whether they produce positive environmental outcomes or not. Furthermore, current funding available isn’t nearly enough to reach the goals of ELMS.

Why should we care?

Agricultural activities are associated with a myriad of environmental issues, from climate change to pollution and soil degradation. Reforming agriculture is therefore at the core of building more sustainable food systems, and the termination of CAP was a chance to do so. The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and the National Trust expressed their disappointment that this opportunity has been ruined due to lack of detail and clarity.

The government’s promises of land regeneration appear to be pointed in the right direction. However they will be ineffective if the livelihoods of small-scale farmers are neglected. 

Be Curious!

• Shop local and support farms which practice sustainable agriculture

• From the Curious Archives: read here why small-scale farming is so important for the environment

• Take a look at the rewilding project in Knepp

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