Learn From the Past for New Agri Environment Measures

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) is encouraging DEFRA to return to the principles of the Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) scheme when developing new agri-environment policy for the post Brexit era.

DEFRA’s “Health and Harmony” consultation is asking for views on how to develop new measures that will promote payments for public goods, and rather than looking for new ideas the TFA believes DEFRA should be learning from the experience of the past.

TFA Chief Executive George Dunn

TFA Chief Executive George Dunn

TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn said;
“It’s no surprise that DEFRA is looking to move away from the current suite of agri-environment schemes. Of late they have become strangled by bureaucracy, stifled by poor administration and devalued within the farming community. Despite the mantra of looking for more ‘outcome focused’ approaches, the current offerings are probably the most process driven schemes we have ever seen. It is right, therefore that we should be looking to do things differently.”

“However, we don’t need to be reinventing the wheel. DEFRA needs only to look back to ESAs run by its predecessor Department, MAFF in the 1980s and 1990s to find the inspiration it needs,” said Mr Dunn.

The UK was a leading pioneer of agri-environment schemes in Europe following the inclusion of environmental objectives within the Common Agricultural Policy in the mid-1980s. The introduction of ESAs was seen as a gold standard and valued by farmers, environmental NGOs and demonstrated good value for money.

ESAs offered farmers an area specific, tiered approach to involvement in the scheme with rising levels of commitment coupled with increasing levels of reward. The key element, which we have seen removed in recent years, was the role of the project officers who were local advocates of their schemes, embedded within local communities and who had the flexibility and autonomy to make individual decisions about contracts drawn up with farmers in their areas.

“We have allowed agri-environment schemes to become too remote, we need to put back the human touch. It is essential that DEFRA rethinks its strategy on administering agri-environment schemes. Evaluations carried out of the ESA schemes at the time highlighted the vital role played by the project officer in making a success of local schemes.” said Mr Dunn.

A major limitation of ESAs was their restriction in terms of geography. They were limited to very specific areas of the country.

“Now that Natural England has produced Character Maps covering the whole of England we can get over this problem. Schemes can be developed which are bespoke to each of the Character Map areas providing coverage for the whole of the country,” said Mr Dunn.


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