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  • Harriet Bell

ELMs Test & Trails – not quite what is says on the tin

Three weeks into a new role as the Dartmoor Environmental Land Management (ELMs) Officer I’m just beginning to feel like I got my head around this enough for a bit of an introductory blog. Not least to do a bit of expectation management – ELMs may solve everything, in the end, but certainly not immediately, so hopefully this blog will make the current situation a bit clearer.


I’m going to split it out into sections so feel free to skip ahead to what’s most interesting or relevant to you.


- What is ELMs?

- How is ELMs being developed?

- What’s going on with the Dartmoor ELMs Test & Trials?

- Where has the Dartmoor ELMs test and trial got to so far?


What is ELMs?


Whilst we were members of the European Union UK farmers were subject to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which was designed to support farmers and ensure a stable supply of food.


CAP distributed money to farmers through two ‘pillars’. The first ‘pillar’ provided for direct payments – the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). The second ‘pillar’ provided funding for agri-environment schemes (Countryside Stewardship), grants to improve farm productivity and funding for wider rural development.


As we exit the EU it’s now up to our Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (Defra) to develop a ‘replacement’ scheme for the CAP, which they are doing and it’s called the Environmental Land Management scheme but largely referred to as ELMs.


How is ELMs being developed?

To start with ELMs doesn’t exist in isolation, there are a range of other government policies which will shape ELMs – the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan, the Environment Bill and the new Agriculture Bill being some of the primary ones.


Very conveniently Defra have a nice presentation one can look at which explains their thinking.



In essence direct payments will be phased out and ELMs will be introduced offering payments for the management and enhancement of public goods such as water, carbon, biodiversity, landscape, heritage and access.


It is likely to be very different to current agri-environment schemes. The intention is that the new scheme will be entirely voluntary and much less prescriptive, farmers will get out what they put in and have much more choice over their actions.


The scheme is being developed in two ways. Firstly, the usual bevy of civil servants in Whitehall are doing lots of research and meeting with lots of stakeholders to shape what’s being referred to as “the National Pilot”, which I understand as the broad framework of the system which will start to roll out from 2021.


Then there are the ELMs test and trials – Defra say they’re keen that the new scheme is designed collaboratively, working with farmers and land managers and the tests and trials are the mechanism to do this. Working together to explore how practical new and different approaches are for farmers to deliver, to determine whether they should be included in the new scheme or not. The Tests and Trials will inform the National Pilot as both develop simultaneously, not just when the Test and Trials conclude.

There are currently 38 live ELMs test and trials running, with more waiting to hear if they’ll proceed this year.


Natural Devon have put a full list of the South West test and trials on their website: https://www.naturaldevon.org.uk/environmental-land-management-schemes-trials-in-devon/


What’s going on with the Dartmoor ELMs Test & Trials?

The first thing to be very clear about is that the Dartmoor Test and Trials isn’t about practical, on the ground, in the field management, hence the title of this piece. It’s largely a thought exercise – developing answers to the four issues below and then testing them in the court of public opinion, to ensure they could work in real life.


It provides an important opportunity for farmers to get engaged in the design of ELMs, using their expertise and experience to help develop ideas that might work on Dartmoor (and elsewhere). Hopefully workable answers could in future make it through to either being tested in the real world, on Dartmoor, or are taken on board by Defra and feed into the national delivery of ELMs. So the more people who get involved, with the intention of influencing the final national scheme, the better.


On Dartmoor we’ll be looking at 4 key elements.




Element 1: Explore the role that National Park Authorities could play in shaping, facilitating and delivering ELMS.


Objective

Develop a practical, tested model that uses the National Park Management Plan process for local priority setting and landscape-scale planning. The model would provide a clear framework for the development of land management plans at a holding level and for commons and the delivery of ELMS. This will inform a framework for partnership working at a local level to deliver local priorities and the objectives of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.


Element 2: Develop a blueprint for Land Management Plans with a specific focus on commons* and the link to the home farms and explore what advisor/guidance is required to support the development, implementation and monitoring of land management plans (at a farm, common and wider landscape-scale).


Objective

To develop a template for integrated management plans for a series of farms, up-to three commons and at a landscape scale that seeks to ensure the plans are ‘owned’ and understood by the farmers/land managers concerned and provide a basis for management to deliver the outcomes sought.


(*If, like me, you’re not from a Dartmoor or a commons farming background let me flag that this is the particularly interesting bit. Most farmers have full control over their land, if they own their farm, or share control with one landlord, if they’re a tenant, so they can relatively easily decide how they think it should be managed and just get on and do it. If you’re a Commoner then you may have a home farm or “in-bye land” where you have full control but when it comes to management and use of the Common you need all the Commoners in your association to work together, plus the land owner, and then it all needs to “sit well” with the overarching Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, which regulates the management of the commons.)


Element 3: Develop and trial a ‘Payments by Results’ approach that is capable of delivering a range of public benefit objectives and could be operated on a common as well as the home farm, across farm boundaries and at a landscape scale.


Objective

Design a ‘Payment by Results’ model for delivering a range of outcomes that links to the integrated land management plan for the farm and/or common, is understood and supported by the farming/land management community and rewards the management and enhancement of identified public benefits. We would take a broad definition of ‘payment by results’. The model would also address how you measure/assess delivery.


Phase 4: Explore how private finance initiatives and other forms of environmental net gain* could be incorporated into ELMS at a local level


Objective

Work with a range of businesses to look at whether there are environmental outcomes they would be willing to pay for; how they might pay for these; whether it would require landscape-scale action by suppliers of such benefits to attract purchasers; and the sort of advice/environmental brokering arrangements that would need to be put in place to deliver such a model.


(* If you’ve not come across the term environmental net gain before it means that where you’re making changes to a landscape, for example developing new homes, you have to ensure that either whatever you’re doing improves the environment on that site or, where this is not possible, you’re paying a levy for habitat creation of environmental improvement elsewhere.)


Where has the Dartmoor ELMs test and trial got to so far?


We’ve only just started and our first step it to put together a steering group to oversee the whole process and liaise with the Dartmoor community.


What will be critical is that we create as many opportunities for people to contribute to the project as is feasible, balanced against doing some in depth work with smaller groups to nail details. I welcome any thoughts and suggestions about the best ways of achieving that!


In the meantime please look out for updates on this website and in the Dartmoor Hill Farm Project newsletter. Which you can subscribe to if you’ve not done so already.

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