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  • Harriet Bell

What advice system is needed to support farmers in delivering ELMs?

At their virtual meeting on the 16th of July the Dartmoor farmer led Advisory Team, supporting the test and trial, came to a decision about the best Land Management Plan approach for Dartmoor. This is how farmers indicate what public goods they'll be delivering on their land in order to support payment.

The team went for a farmer led mapping approach, with an accompanying scorecard system, supported by advice. So now we need to work through each of these elements to develop the detail.

These are the notes from the Advisory Team's discussion on the role of advice on Monday 20th July.

  • Somebody who understands what we’re trying to do and can point us in a better direction.

  • I want someone that’s working for us not against us.

  • Not happy about it being a Defra or NE person, where specific help is needed go to someone from the appropriate body for specialist advice. They perhaps need to be accredited by someone like NE but I wouldn’t want them to be an NE person, I want to feel they work for me. I’m happy to have one main advisor but I’d still want to be able to able to call on specialists as needed. I’ve seen other international schemes with advisors who were employed by the farmer and that enabled a sense of ownership and the ability to experiment with their own approach. Not advisors who are imposed from above. Defra should pay for it, although maybe if we wanted to do something really specialist we could put our hands in our pockets.

  • Advisors should be Defra funded because otherwise it could cost a lot of money upfront to get support on entering into the scheme and that could be a barrier to entry. I’ve been to see the Hen Harrier project and they trained up about 40 people and provided an accredited list of people for farmers to choose from. It’s important to have the ability to access specialists, not just have generalist support. Advisors for farm payment help but facilitators for group work.

  • Currently if there’s an error on the agreement farmers have full liability even if it’s a Natural England mistake so whoever offers the advice has to have some form of insurance or are they accountable for the payment? If it was about the delivery of something I was engaged with I would want to find someone who worked for me, with a shared vision, but who was recommended.

  • There’s a role for both facilitator and advisor- who calls the shots pays. We need advisors who can cover more than just the environment e.g. environment, economic and social.

  • Why can’t farmers also be advisors to themselves and others?

  • My desired outcome would be to have within Defra what MAF had 25 years ago, not just enforcement but a facilitation role. I’d like to see that culture change towards working with us to achieve the desired outcomes. Having our own advisors is one thing but we need to make sure that any advice offered is value for money across all areas.

  • We do not need to have a compulsory advisor, just if you need advice setting up an agreement, that’s when you may need an advisor as an option.

  • It could work to have the same people doing advice and monitoring if they are properly trained to the right standard.

  • If the scheme needs lots of advice then it’s probably too complicated. It would be problematic if there were lots of different opinions in terms of advice. It would be good to train local, trusted people as advisors, possibly agriculturalists who can also have environmental training. People handing over their plans to advisors leads to farmers not understanding their agreements.

  • Training if it empowers us and we can take ownership would be a good thing but if that means having to train a load of trainers and that’s a resource burden again.

  • Training isn’t something farmers always rush to do, the right advisor/facilitator would be better than training.

  • Time has a lot of bearing on training. I like trainers not to be in the employ of paymasters responsible for the money. Do we actually need training now when you can find everything you need on the internet? Maybe there should be a central body where you can just ask questions when you get stuck?

  • Facilitators could be good about getting us into a group, they don’t have to know about the subject, but they’re great at getting people to a plan. We can put together lists of what we have ourselves as a starting point.

  • We have a culture of skills so we can be our own best advisor if appropriately supported.

  • Keep things simple. We’re having a new way of working thrust upon us so we need someone who can facilitate getting the best outcome out of the new scheme, communicating what it can deliver for that farm business. They need to know where the specialist advice is but they hold the trust and confidence of the farmers they work with. That individual should be employed by the Dartmoor National Park Authority because then we can draw on the Authorities specialists. Then it’s local and under local control and is locally accountable. Training could be a small element of it. What we need is the confidence that local facilitators will deliver a scheme that works for local businesses. This gets around the challenges and difficulties of people turning up to promote their specific objectives rather than holding the broader vision.

  • Most farmers do not have time for training and would not be interested. Whoever the advisors are they are going to have some form of training on ELMs and how it works, farmers could put in for that training and be advisors for their area. The role of a principle advisor/facilitator is to help farmers identify get the agreement they want rather than the agreement the advisor thinks they should have.

  • If we have training we’ll end up with something very centralized and top down, a lot of trainers don’t understand specific landscape needs, each part of the moor is totally different. So I don’t think that would work.

  • If there’s training that we need to have it should be hands on, visiting other farms so they can demonstrate what’s worked well on their farm. I’m much happier with that type of hands on peer to peer learning.

  • CPC training that I have to do to drive the lorry is the biggest waste of time, if you want to turn people of mention training.

Vote called on "Would like one principle advisor/facilitator but then they have a group of specialists that they can call?" result was 6 in favour, 3 against.

  • Those who voted against generally didn’t want to be tied to a single person.

Vote called on " Would you like a list of advisors to pick from?" which split pretty equally.

  • We should just have a pot of money and be able to select who we work with.

  • For the FEPs experience I think complexity and challenge of commons landscape can add additional burden for advisors who struggle with it on an individual basis.

  • I’m worried that we need advisors clearly available for those farmers who aren’t able to identify the best sources of advice themselves.

  • A guidance book should be enough for common agreements.

  • In terms of getting experts together so they can all sing from the same hymn sheet, it’s not really about them, the decision lies with the land manager deciding what they want to deliver and then find the right advice.

  • The trouble with the FEPs was they became so complicated we couldn’t deliver them anymore.

  • I’m not worried about farmers being able to find help, I think those selling advice as a service will come to us if there’s funding available. It should be up to the individual to decide.

  • The best accreditation for an advisor is looking around at what those you know are managing to deliver.

  • My concern is that if there’s just funding available for advice it will encourage an industry to spring up which exploits that funding and exploits vulnerable individuals which will lead to money being inappropriately spent.

Vote called on "Would you like the cash to spend on advice yourself?" 5 in favour, remaining opposed.

Vote called on "Would you like freely available advice?" 1 in favour (possibly 2 if they hadn't lost their internet connection.)

  • We’ve had examples where an NE advisor has set up something and then a new advisor has disagreed. My major concern is that we have stability of commitment to vision.

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