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‘Payment by results’ nature farming scheme gets £540,000 Government boost

The pilot project ‘marks a shift in how we think about rewarding farmers for their work’, Michael Gove has said.

A project which pays farmers for delivering results for nature on their land will be the first agri-environment scheme directly funded by the UK, it has been announced.

The “payment by results” project, which helps farmers create their own land management plans to meet specific environmental needs in their local area, will receive a £540,000 boost, the Environment Department (Defra) said.

The scheme was a European Commission pilot that had been due to conclude at the end of this year, but the funding from Defra will allow work to carry on for the next two years.

It is taking place in Norfolk and Suffolk and in Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales, with farmers paid for delivering benefits for nature from producing nectar-rich flower plots for bees to creating habitat for breeding wading birds.

The focus is on providing training and guidance to farmers to design management plans to meet environmental objectives, with the flexibility allowing them to become more engaged with wildlife and think creatively about achieving the aims, officials said.

Farmers have been paid to create nectar plots which support pollinators (Natural England/PA)

When the UK leaves the European Union, it will also quit the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy which governs policy and pays subsidies to farmers worth £3 billion a year in the UK, mostly based on the amount of land they have.

The Government has proposed new measures which will focus payments on providing “public goods” such as creating wildlife habitat, protecting cherished landscapes, reducing flooding and improving air quality.

Defra said there would be more trials of schemes as the country left the EU to find a model where profitable farm businesses and environmental land management could co-exist and complement each other.

Ahead of an appearance with farmers and major landowner and conservation organisation the National Trust at the BBC Countryfile Live event at Blenheim Palace, Michael Gove said he was “delighted” to extend the scheme.

This approach signals how we see the future of farm payments, where farmers deliver public goods for the environment which we all enjoy Environment Secretary Michael Gove

“Under the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy), agri-environment schemes have been overly bureaucratic and inflexible,” he said.

“This has impeded innovation for farmers who are passionate about the environment and want to see real change.

“The payment by results pilot marks a shift in how we think about rewarding farmers for their work.

“This approach signals how we see the future of farm payments, where farmers deliver public goods for the environment which we all enjoy. ”

Arable farmers in Norfolk and Suffolk have been paid for managing plots that provide winter food for farmland birds during the “hungry gap” when natural seed sources are low, and for planting flower-rich habitat for pollinators.

In Wensleydale, farmers are being paid for managing species-rich hay meadows (Natural England/PA)

In Wensleydale, the pilot has been delivered by Natural England in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and has rewarded sheep and cattle farmers managing grassland for wading birds or wildflower rich hay meadows.

Carl Lis, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “The pilot scheme has been a hit with farmers because it has been designed and delivered locally and because it puts the farmer back in control of how the land is managed, rather than having to follow very detailed and rigid prescriptions.”

He said the 19 farmers had produced some “excellent” environmental results in a short time.

“The better the environmental results, the more they get paid.”

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