Landscape Recovery: Defra confirms 34 projects in round two

Defra has confirmed £25m of funding will be ploughed into 34 projects for round two of its Landscape Recovery scheme, which is the third component of its Environmental Land Management (ELM) programme.

Together, more than 700 farmers and landowners of all farm types and sizes in England will work together with local communities to deliver these projects, stretching across 200,000ha of land – an area one-and-a-half times the size of Greater Manchester.

See also: How a coastal group’s audit is focusing biodiversity effort

Some farm leaders have raised concerns that many Landscape Recovery schemes are “vanity projects” that will come at great cost to the public purse, tenant farming businesses and food production, but deliver little in terms of environmental enhancement.

However, Geoff Sansome, head of agriculture at Natural England, advised farmers and landowners in England to view Landscape Recovery as an opportunity for new income streams to help make up the loss in their finances as Defra continues with its phased removal of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) monies.

“Landscape Recovery is a policy commitment and direction which could ultimately account for 20-25% or so of the former BPS budget, which is where we’re heading. Farmers seriously need to consider it,” he told Farmers Weekly.

‘Lifeline’ for moorlands

The successful projects in round two include large-scale projects in Dartmoor and Penwith, west Cornwall, which Mr Sansome suggested could “throw a lifeline” to farmers in protected areas (known as “SSSIs”), who have seen restrictions placed on their farming activities.

Defra says the Penwith Landscape Recovery project will enable the rejuvenation of its moors and downs. It aims to return the widespread grazing of cattle on the heathlands, while also ensuring that clean water flows through the fens and farmland. 

Mr Sansome also rejected industry concerns that Defra’s Landscape Recovery projects will result in more land taken out of food production.

“Agricultural land in England covers 9.2m hectares. This round of projects involves another 200,000ha; it’s not going to take land out of production. They are inevitably on some of the most unproductive land, which presents some of the greatest opportunity for nature recovery,” he said.

“It’s not all about taking land out of production. For example, the River Wye project [Wyescapes Landscape Recovery] will involve 36 farmers over 4,500ha, working to restore water quality, boost wildlife, sequester carbon, all hand-in-hand with sustainable food production, helping farmers overcome some of the very problems impacting current production methods around the River Wye.

“Landscape Recovery schemes sit alongside food production and will present an alternative, long-term income stream for many farmers.”

Mixed reaction

However, farming organisations have greeted Defra’s latest Landscape Recovery announcement with a mixed response.

NFU president Minette Batters said: We look forward to receiving more detail from Defra on how this new nature package will work in practice for both food production and for the environment.

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) said it knew of some projects where tenants have either been “inappropriately cajoled” into signing up, or simply been excluded from any meaningful conversations about the way forward.

TFA chief executive George Dunn said one key recommendation of the Rock Review into agricultural tenancies was the need for an explicit policy to ensure that Landscape Recovery was being delivered while minimising the adverse impact on tenants.

“Any project must receive no funding if it involves land which has been resumed from a tenant farmer. Landowners must not be rewarded with public money for diminishing the size of the tenanted sector,” he insisted.

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