Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Additional evidence submitted to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee



  Agri-environment schemes are designed to pay farmers for managing their land in ways which benefit the environment. The payments are made because there are benefits to society from having sustainable farming systems which enhance wildlife and landscapes. The government recognises that farmers should be rewarded for producing public benefits.

  Current agri-environment schemes are targeted at the management or restoration of particular habitats, or specific environmentally sensitive areas. While this is effective in protecting or enhancing special places and species, they are not designed to affect the wider farmed environment, or benefit more than a minority of farmers. It is becoming increasingly apparent that widespread farmland degradation needs to be addressed through support for simple, relatively inexpensive improvements by the majority of farmers. This would have two benefits: all farmers would have the opportunity to receive support for the delivery of public benefits rather than via production subsidies; and farmland wildlife like skylark, brown hare, bumblebee and cornflower, would be helped to thrive again in areas where they have become sparse or even absent. In addition to increasing wildlife on farms, this scheme will indirectly help wildlife living in semi-natural habitats, which have become isolated and disconnected by intensively managed farmland, and will also deliver considerable benefits for basic resources such as water and soil quality.

  The RSPB, English Nature, Game Conservancy Trust and the Soil Association, have developed and put forward proposals for such a broad and shallow scheme (nominally called Basic Stewardship), which formed the basis of the Curry Report recommendation.

Scheme Requirements

  Basic Stewardship would reward farmers for putting a proportion of their land into conservation management (including options such as buffer strips which could benefit water and soil protection), improving their field margin and boundary management, reducing field sizes with beetle banks, and carrying out a mini-conservation project of their choice. The scheme includes an organic strand designed to reward organic farmers for their environmental deliverables.

  The options should be based on a conservation plan for the farm. Ideally, this would build on the results of the farm audit system recommended in the Curry Report, whereby every farm would be assessed against agreed environmental standards, and environmental opportunities and areas for improvements identified. This approach of delivering farm business and environmental advice side by side is entirely consistent with the new attitude to multifunctional farming. However, even without such a national audit initiative, farmers entering Basic Stewardship could develop a conservation plan with the help of a day visit from a recognised conservation advisor.

  Each farmer would be required to:

    A.  Across the whole farm . . .

    Produce a farm conservation plan to guide future action, based on a farm audit;

    B.  On the cropped or grazed land . . .

    Manage 6 per cent of cropped/grassland fields as low input "conservation management"; or be organic or in conversion

    C.  On the non-cropped land....

      —  Have a minimum area of the farm (5 per cent) as non-cropped/semi-natural habitat which would have to be protected and maintained;

      —  Improve the links between non-cropped habitats (eg beetle banks across very large fields);

      —  Protect and manage traditional field boundaries like hedgerows and ditches;

      —  Manage 50 per cent of "set-aside" land for wildlife and landscape benefits;

    D.  Undertake a small wildlife project from a list of suggested options.

  In return, farmers would receive a standard, per hectare payment across the whole farm, with the option of payments for capital items where they were necessary to meet the management requirements. Emphasis is placed on building in a considerable amount of choice with regard to locating and implementing the various requirements. This is necessary to make a single scheme fit multiple farm types, and to give farmers flexibility to integrate the scheme prescriptions with their business operations. Table 2 (at end) shows the proposed options in more detail.

Payment and Scheme Costs

  Basic stewardship would cost in the order of £25 per hectare, depending on the exact scheme requirements. Entering England's nine million ha farmed area into basic stewardship would therefore cost £225M. A one day visit from a conservation expert to draw up an audit and conservation plan would be around £400 per farm. This would not necessarily have to be sourced from agri-environment budgets, if it is also to audit farms against forthcoming legislative requirements, as suggested by the Environment Agency.


  Basic Stewardship would be much cheaper than current agri-environment schemes to administer. There are two reasons for this: it uses a flat rate payments rather than individual option payments, and farmers could apply for it with no specialist help, via the normal Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) route. The agricultural support system relies on IACS. Progress is being made towards streamlining the IACS procedures, employing IT to make forms available electronically and allowing electronic submissions. This system could be developed to include a whole farm plan, identifying where farm practices reflect plan recommendations and how environmental requirements are being met. Many elements of this would be consistent year on year, and would not impose a large administration burden once the elements were integrated into a streamlined IACS. Table 1 summarises opportunities to administer Basic Stewardship alongside production payments within IACS.


Farmer Administration DEFRA AdministrationBenefits
Support payments     
IACS Form + Map.
Showing agricultural activities.
Check eligibility for payments based on IACS rules. Continued development of IT-based forms; time and accuracy improvements.
Agri-environmental payments: Broad and Shallow Scheme   
Details on IACS Form + Map, showing location of standard options and selected multiple choice options. Flat rate payment added to support payment. Need accompanying Scheme booklet with option details, possibly combined with higher tier options. Compliance checks on proportion of farms at same time as IACS compliance checks. Uses existing IACS system rather than second application system, minimises admin by simplified menu-based approach and flat payment.

  Ideally, Basic Stewardship would not be a competitive scheme, as it would be most effective if a high proportion of farmers were in. This would require significant additional resources, raised through fund-switching from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2. In order to avoid modulating farmers out of business during the transition phase, the necessary infrastructure to supply basic stewardship money would need to be in place when modulation was increased.

Wider agri-environment context

  Special sites and habitats that cannot be managed through basic stewardship will always need extra support. This is currently the focus of agri-environment schemes and needs to be continued and enhanced. Payments and agreements for this sort of management must recognise the more complex and demanding management required.

  DEFRA is currently reviewing agri-environment schemes and is due to report in 2003. There is a widespread view that specialist agri-environment support should be part of a single, integrated scheme, which could include Basic stewardship, rather than as several separate schemes. The higher tiers of this scheme should continue to pay for habitat management, restoration and recreation, for priorities such as: wetlands; heathland; hay meadows; farm woodlands; in-field management such as extensive grazing or fallow crops; and specialist management geared to particular rare or endangered wildlife species. Other relevant policy areas (eg: wetland creation (from Flood Defence); heathland restoration (from Forestry Commission)) could also benefit from land management options in this category, and overlapping areas should be examined for potential added value and joint objectives. However, Basic Stewardship could be implemented whether or not the existing schemes and wider policies were integrated into a single framework, as it would work either as an entry-level tier or a stand-alone agri-environment scheme.

  The organic strand of Basic Stewardship would reward organic farmers for the conservation benefits they deliver. Organic farmers will be very well placed to have access to the higher tier payments as well, since the majority of these payments require management which is largely consistent with organic standards.


Participants must undertake items from each section (A-D)
All applicable items
One option
A1Farm conservation planB1Minimum per cent in "conservation management"
OR Organic
C1Non-cropped habitat
(i) 2m NCH every 400m, AND
(ii) 5 per cent holding as NCH
     C22m field margins to protect all field boundaries D2Wild bird cover
     C3Traditional field boundary management D36m reseeded margins on pasture
     C4Appropriate set-aside managementD4Lapwing plots
        D5Skylark scrapes
        D7Overwintered stubbles/summer fallow on set-aside
        D8Overwintered stubbles/spring crop (non-cereal)
        D9Overwintered stubbles/spring cereal crop
        D10Overwintered stubbles/undersown spring cereal
        D11Conversion of silage to fodder crops
        D12Uncropped wildlife strips
        D13Farmer's choice

25 March 2002

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