Call for three-point plan to protect farming in National Parks

National Parks England is calling for the Government to protect the future of farming after data has revealed that, since 2015, there has been nearly a 20% reduction in the amount of land in National Parks under an agri-environment agreement.

Otterburn, Northumberland National Park © Peter Skelton

Agri-environment agreements enable farmers and land managers to farm in a sustainable way that supports and enhances natural capital assets such as biodiversity and landscape quality, as well as air, water and soil quality amongst others.

The decline in agreements, which in some cases is as high as 30%, is not just a potential environmental problem, but it may also have an economic impact on the local communities living in National Parks.

National Parks England’s three-point plan will secure the continued security and productivity of farm businesses as they transition from Countryside Stewardship, the current set of agri-environment schemes, to the new Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS).

National Parks England is calling for:

1) Higher Level Stewardship schemes to roll over - National Parks England is asking the Government to facilitate extensions to existing Higher Level Stewardship schemes that are delivering against the 25 Year Environment Plan, and to ensure that there is advisor capacity to achieve this.

2) A review of the Countryside Stewardship scheme - higher tier Countryside Stewardship offers a restricted menu of choice, while mid-tier options need to be a more attractive proposition for farmers and with a clear focus on delivering public benefits. Such changes could help farmers make the transition to ELMS.

3) The inclusion of all National Parks in the pilot scheme for ELMS - all National Parks should be included as part of the forthcoming national pilot for ELMS beginning in 2021. This would provide an opportunity to accelerate the transition to the new system and ensure availability is linked to the reduction in the Basic Payment Scheme, which is currently the biggest EU funding stream for farmers.

Margaret Paren, Chair of National Parks England, said: “Getting ELMS right in National Parks is critical, as farming is central to the fabric of our National Park landscapes and the wider rural economy. We are encouraged by the Government’s stated objectives for ELMS, but we cannot wait until 2027; we must act now to ensure we do not see environmental damage to our most treasured landscapes as land comes out of agri-environment agreements.

"We need to secure a viable future for our farmers that combines high-quality food production with provision of public goods such as better biodiversity and high-quality landscapes. We have highlighted some suggested changes and are keen to work with colleagues in Defra and Natural England to address this issue.”

National Parks are among the most beautiful and valued landscapes in the country, and farming is fundamental to their distinctive character and to delivering many of their special qualities, for people to enjoy today and tomorrow. National Parks England wants to ensure that the irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage of these landscapes continues to be conserved and enhanced following the country’s departure from the Common Agricultural Policy.

In 2017, National Parks England set out a model for environmental land management in the National Parks and highlighted the importance of taking an integrated, place-based approach that could deliver multiple benefits. Its vision is for ELMS to be a powerful tool to make National Parks even better for:

  • Nature – supporting nature recovery but also landscape, cultural heritage and other public benefits and ecosystem services in an integrated, cost-effective way.

  • People – involving farmers and land managers in the design, delivery and monitoring of the system, supporting improved access, better interpretation and providing funding for volunteer engagement, CARE farms, and more.

  • Economy – supporting a dynamic mix of small businesses, farmers, land managers, contractors, the wider supply chain, and towns and villages, by offering a fair reward for delivery of public benefits.

Source: Press Office, National Parks