The co-design of post-Brexit agri-environmental policy:focusing on Environmental Land Management in England

Little, Ruth and Lyon, Jessica and Tsouvalis, Judith (2022) The co-design of post-Brexit agri-environmental policy:focusing on Environmental Land Management in England. In: Rural Governance in the UK. Routledge, London, pp. 54-78. ISBN 9781032060019

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The UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) has been construed by Westminster as an opportunity to radically rethink its approach to agriculture and the environment. A “Green Brexit” was not on the government’s agenda prior to the referendum (Heron, in this volume); however, achieving “Brexit” has led to changes that – in conjunction with other post-Brexit developments – leave the UK with many opportunities, challenges, uncertainties and questions regarding the future of farming, rural communities, economies and land use. Indeed, there is now considerable pressure on rural land to serve the needs of many interests, including those linked to ecosystem services provision (e.g., carbon sequestration, water quality and biodiversity), amenity and public health. Wynne-Jones et al. (2022) speculate about how these different interests could play out in terms of land ownership, citing the example of large corporations potentially buying up land for tree planting to off-set carbon emissions and the public controversies this has caused regarding the implications of this for rural communities and cultures. In this chapter, we focus on the changes in governance arrangements at the interface of agriculture and the environment, focussing on the co-design of the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes in England, which re-orientates policy towards the delivery of “public goods”. In 2019, the EU contributed just under £3.3 billion to the UK’s rural economy via Direct Payments to farmers and in rural development funds (Antonopoulos et al., 2022). Four hundred and seventy-two thousand were employed in the UK farming sector, and 71 percent of UK land was under agricultural management (NAO, 2021).A recent study of the potential impact of the transition on farmers has predicted that the number of UK farm businesses could drop by as much as 20 percent by 2030 as a direct result of the phasing out of Direct Payments via the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) – compared with a decline of around four percent over the previous decade (Clarke, 2021). This could lead to a further concentration of the agricultural industry and the further intensification of agricultural production. BPS represented 61 percent of Farm Business Income (profit) across all farm types over the period 2014/2015 to 2016/2017, with large sectoral and geographical differences, indicating the most significant contribution to profit for Grazing Livestock and Mixed farms. For example, in the North East of England, where Grazing Livestock farms predominate, Direct Payments accounted for 98 percent of Farm Business Income (DEFRA, 2018a). The distributional impacts of the move from BPS to ELM are currently unknown. It is, therefore, imperative that the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the policy is closely monitored as the transition progresses. Inclusive and diverse engagement with stakeholders in the ELM co-design process is also vital to ensure that the potential benefits and unintended consequences of the policy are fully explored and addressed. Whilst the new Agriculture and Environment Acts will provide the legal frameworks for actions to follow, the new iterations of agri-environment schemes (AES) under development in England and the devolved administrations will reconfigure how farmers, land managers, foresters and others relate to their working environments and nature. ELM is considered to be a critical component in achieving the objectives of the government’s 25-year Environment Plan (HM Government, 2018) and other environmental commitments such as Net Zero by 2050. It is based on Natural Capital principles, an approach that advocates the monetisation of “natural assets”, and farmers, land managers, foresters and others will, in the future, be remunerated for the production of what the new policy refers to as “public goods”. These “goods” include clean air, clean water, thriving wildlife, reduced risk from environmental hazards (e.g., flooding and drought), improved animal welfare, enhanced beauty, heritage and opportunities to engage with the natural environment, and soil protection. Much is at stake here, and to achieve these stated goals, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has committed to co-designing ELM with a broad range of stakeholders across the country. This participatory approach has never been used before for AES policy development, but is widely hailed in government circles to result in better, more workable policy (see Section 3). This chapter provides an overview of the proposed ELM schemes; discusses the rationale for co-design and progress made to date in the development of ELM; appraises factors that may contribute to the relative success of the new scheme (drawing upon literature on farmer participation in previous schemes); and provides an overview of how agricultural policy can be made more inclusive – both in terms of policy development and uptake – through co-design and strategies of inclusiveness to ensure “harder-to-reach” farmers, land managers and stakeholders can participate as well as the “usual suspects”.

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22 May 2023 14:40
Last Modified:
02 Nov 2023 11:35