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As conservation charities and farmers gathered at a national conference in January, the government announced dramatic changes to funding policies for farmers.Our experts have been delving into the details and shared their thoughts on DEFRA’s latest funding changes for farmers.
Significant agri-environment measures have been announced by the government, with light finally being shone on species-rich grassland.
This is the change Plantlife has been calling for – and the choreography of the announcement could not be more symbolic.
While we were at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, DEFRA Minister Steve Barclay was at the Oxford Farming Conference where he announced significant changes to the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme (England’s new agri-environment scheme, paying farmers for more nature-friendly farming practices).
One of the headline-grabbing announcements was an increase in funding for farmers managing species-rich grasslands in Countryside Stewardship (CS). Farmers who had previously been offered £182 per hectare can now expect £646/ha for the same land.
Plantlife and its partners, alongside farmers, have been advocating for this policy change – a complete revaluing of these extraordinary multifunctional habitats.
While this is an overall win for species-rich grassland, the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) payment rates are still too low.
The low SFI payment rates risk more loss and destruction of irreplaceable meadows, as farmers can be rewarded more for ploughing and fertilising species-rich grassland, than maintaining them.
Instead, farmers need to be offered better incentives to do the right thing for grasslands and wildlife.
Crucially, alongside money, these schemes also need to provide the other thing that farmers need – accessible, high-quality and free (or affordable) advice. Whether farmers are taking the first leap, or tackling ever more ambitious restoration work, they need to know they can access the support needed.
And there is still so much more that must be done to retore and protect grasslands across the country. That’s why we will continue, alongside our partners, to call on the government to commit to develop a Grassland Action Plan (GAP) for England.
This announcement is clearly moving in the right direction for the benefit of grasslands and farming. To build on this progress, we recommend that:
It’s important to note that farming is not two separate camps – it is a continuum. Farmers plough their own furrows and few fit neatly into pigeonholes when it comes to method. It is striking, then, that the announcement on species-rich grasslands is drawing similar responses from voices across conservation and farming.
For example, the National Farming Union’s (NFU) president Minette Batters tweeted: “Credit where it’s due to @DefraGovUK. I’ve been critical of the lack of value in species rich grassland; delighted that the payment rate now reflects the incredible biodiversity & sequestered carbon benefits of grass.”
Many of our GAP partners have echoed sentiments of support, such as Butterfly Conservation.
Managing species-rich grassland in Countryside Stewardship:
Restoration or creation of species-rich grasslands in Countryside Stewardship:
Species-rich floodplain meadows in Countryside Stewardship:
No change to Sustainable Farming Incentive grassland management rates:
Advice and support are needed:
As governments continue to undervalue grasslands, Plantlife is calling on policymakers to help farmers make sustainable choices.
This WWF & Plantlife document makes the case for the world to recognise the vital role that grasslands and savannahs can play in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises.
Discover how Plantlife is working with governments to protect and restore temperate rainforest along the Atlantic coast of Britain.
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