Additional evidence submitted to the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs Committee
A BASIC STEWARDSHIP
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.
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
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
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
TABLE 1: ADMINISTERING BASIC STEWARDSHIP
|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
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.
TABLE 2: OUTLINE OF BASIC STEWARDSHIP OPTIONS
|Participants must undertake items from each section (A-D)
All applicable items
|A1Farm conservation plan
|B1Minimum per cent in "conservation management"
(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 management
|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
25 March 2002