The details of this transition were set out in Defra’s paper entitled The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024 on 30 November 2020. There will be a shift in emphasis as we move from the ‘legacy’ schemes to the new ELM Scheme. The Environment Secretary George Eustice announced the new paper and set out his vision for the transition and eventual change. Mr Eustice explained that the Government intends to “remove the arbitrary area-based subsidies on land ownership” and replace those with “new payments and new incentives to reward farmers for farming more sustainably, creating space for nature on their land, enhancing animal welfare”.
The ELM Scheme is in the process of being finalised and there will be tests and trials and then a national pilot throughout the countryside for some time yet. The intention is for the ELM Scheme to be fully introduced by 2024. The main thrust of the policy is to support farmers and landowners in tackling the impact of climate change and supporting the environment and animal welfare on their land. Defra’s underlying principle, which we have probably all now heard, is that there should be public money for public goods.
One use of the countryside which may be impacted upon is commercial shoots. These have already been significantly affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic, especially the hospitality side of shoots and it is uncertain as to whether there will be an encouragement to shift away from the use of land for commercial shoots to alternative schemes. The Government’s ELM Scheme will go hand in hand with the new Animal Health and Welfare Pathway and there is considerable political pressure to maintain animal welfare standards post-Brexit. Put these two together and we can see that there may be heightened pressure to use land in other ways. In addition, the alternative income streams offered by the new schemes may put some landowners in a conundrum as to whether to continue commercial shoots or whether to offer land up for uses explicitly covered by the ELM Scheme.
Recently, Channel 4 news reported that the Duchy of Lancaster was in the process of exploring using greater proportions of its estate for carbon capture and tree planting in light of the Government’s new policy and moving away from using some moorland areas for commercial shoots. One proposal is to use the Yorkshire moors’ peat owned by the Duchy as a carbon bank which could be sold to businesses looking to offset carbon in the peat. This stated exploration is in line with the Government’s new England Tree Strategy and its intention to encourage a wide scale tree planting programme to help combat climate change and recover biodiversity.
Similarly, three estates overseen by the National Trust and large areas of moorland owned by Yorkshire Water and United Utilities can no longer be subject to routine heather burning, which is used as a means of creating more attractive habitat for grouse. The National Trust has explained that it intends to introduce more sustainable land management practices which chimes with the intent behind the ELM Scheme and the Committee on Climate Change’s recent recommendation that grouse moor burning should be prohibited by the end of 2021.
It is difficult to say with any certainty as to what the impact the ELM Scheme and its sister policies will have on shoots and whether there will be a move towards purely environmental uses, like tree planting. It may be that the scales will tip away from the positive and large impact the shooting industry has on the economy towards the financial rewards offered under the ELM Scheme. Only time will tell whilst we wait for the ELM Scheme to truly bed in over the next few years.
This article is from the winter 2020 / 2021 issue of Agricultural Brief, our newsletter for farmers, landowners and others involved in agriculture. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website.
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The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2021.