FAQs for farmers and landowners

How does Ambios fit into the South Devon farming landscape?

Ambios are tenants of 130 acres of mostly permanent pasture which we rent from The Sharpham Trust, where we farm organic beef and sheep. Approximately 80 acres of the farm is in Higher Level Stewardship, and the remainder comprises our Rewilding area which is in Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship. Alongside our livestock sales, we rely on these agri-environment stewardship schemes to provide a reliable income and maintain the financial viability of our farm. The future of how our farm, like many across the country, functions in a post-Brexit landscape is still unclear. New changes in agricultural policy are meant to offer significant potential for biodiversity improvement and climate change resilience. Whilst we welcome this approach, the financial implications of transitioning into these new schemes is uncertain and has left our business feeling vulnerable. In partnership with the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Ambios are interested to see what potential the river Dart catchment offers as a joined up landscape, with landowners working together to try to tackle some of the challenges of today.

How is agricultural policy changing?

Leaving the EU meant leaving the Common Agricultural Policy. The farm subsidies which so many farmers rely on are now being phased out over a 7-year transition period. Current agri-environment schemes will be replaced by a new system called Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS). Under these schemes farmers and land managers will be able to enter into agreements that pay for actions which encourage biodiversity, improve the local environment and increase sustainable farming practices, a concept coined ‘public money for public goods’. The ELMS will have three components: the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery. This is seen as an opportunity to reform agricultural policy to support the rural economy whilst delivering outcomes for the environment, climate, and animal welfare. You can find up to date ELMS information and developments through Defra’s Future farming blog posts at https://defrafarming.blog.gov.uk. Below is an outline of what to expect from each ELMS component with the details available so far:

1. Sustainable Farming Incentive

Management actions in the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) are sorted into asset-based standards (i.e., groups based on the range of habitats and features that could be present in the landscape), making it easier for farmers to identify actions best suited to them. Most standards will have three ‘Levels’ – (Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced), which determine the required actions of the standard and how much you are subsequently paid. The SFI is starting rollout in 2022 with 3 standards: Arable and Horticultural Soils, Improved Grasslands Soils and Moorland and Rough Grazing (Introductory Level). More standards will be added incrementally with the full rollout of SFI standards complete from 2025 onwards. When the scheme has been rolled out fully it will see payments for actions on themes including biodiversity, nutrient management, woodland management, and hedgerow management. The aim has been to have as little overlap between actions in SFI and Local Nature Recovery to maximise profit as you will not be paid for the same action twice.

2. Local Nature Recovery

Local Nature Recovery (LNR) will replace Countryside Stewardship and has begun test and trial; the results of this will be published late 2022. LNR agreements will be available from 2024. Farmers and other land managers will likely receive payments for creating, managing, and restoring habitats, connecting isolated habitats to form networks, natural flood management, species management, right of way and education. The scheme will focus on encouraging and rewarding collaboration between landowners to deliver locally specific actions which benefit the environment and climate. This scheme links with the Government’s commitment to develop a national Nature Recovery Network to tackle biodiversity loss, climate change and wellbeing by expanding, improving, and connecting wildlife rich places. Devon’s Local Nature Partnership have recently started work on a Local Nature Recovery Strategy as part of a flagship measure in the Environment Bill. This spatial strategy for nature will plan, map, and help drive more coordinated, practical, focused action and investment in line with local priorities to achieve a Nature Recovery Network in Devon. More information has recently been released and can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/local-nature-recovery-more-information-on-how-the-scheme-will-work/local-nature-recovery-more-information-on-how-the-scheme-will-work

3. Landscape Recovery

Landscape Recovery will see payments for involvement in long-term, transformational landscape-scale habitat restoration projects. The first wave of pilot projects is open for applications later this year and will be focussed on the two themes: Recovering and restoring England’s threatened native species and Restoring England’s streams, rivers, and floodplains. These themes have been chosen because cooperation between partners on a landscape scale in these areas could make a significant positive impact on biodiversity and climate resilience. Each Landscape recovery pilot project will cover 500–5000 ha of contiguous land and will be open to farmers, land managers, organisations, and public bodies. More information has recently been released and can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/landscape-recovery-more-information-on-how-the-scheme-will-work/landscape-recovery-more-information-on-how-the-scheme-will-work

What makes the Dart a suitable candidate for nature recovery?

The Dart Valley hosts an abundance of important wildlife habitats including ancient woodland, traditional orchards, hedgerows, and wood pasture and parkland, but these are often fragmented and degraded. To achieve nature recovery there will need to be establishment of wildlife corridors and a mosaic of rich wildlife habitats, accomplished through collaboration across organisations and landowners. The people of the Dart Valley share a collective identity centred around the estuary. It is likely we already have similar experiences of managing and farming this unique landscape, as much of the land adjoining the estuary has characteristically steep valley sides. We are therefore optimistic that collaboration between landowners, in whatever form this my take, could work well in the Dart catchment. We have established a partnership with the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and are hoping to expand our network to others within the Dart community.