25 farmers and foresters in Exmoor National Park will this month (March) begin trials of a potentially transformative approach to rewarding farmers for delivering key public benefits, such as improved soil, water and habitats.
The proposal is one of around 50 Defra Tests & Trials going on around the country to help inform the development of the government’s future Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELM), due to be rolled out in 2024. A public consultation on the draft scheme is open until 5th May*.
During a visit to Exmoor in 2018, former Environment Secretary Michael Gove toured two Exmoor farms and met with representatives from the Exmoor Hill Farming Network CIC (EHFN), Exmoor National Park Authority and consultancy firm Rural Focus, who co-designed the scheme.**
Defra has since agreed to fund work on Exmoor to demonstrate the concept in practice, with the trial expected to run from now until early next year.
Key objectives include a thorough on the ground test to catalogue the range of ‘public goods’ that each farm could potentially deliver. This would be central to farmers being able to balance the books in terms of delivering environmental benefits alongside productivity and other strands of business.
Mapping the value of natural capital right across the National Park to maximise the delivery of public goods and work towards a system of awarding payment for different environmental outcomes will also be primary activities.
Dave Knight, EHFN Chair of Directors, said: “The Exmoor farming community has worked extremely hard to get this initiative off the ground. We believe the kind of grassroots approach Defra is trying to create will really benefit Exmoor’s farmed landscape. It will better support farmers to deliver environmental benefit alongside traditional farming practices, allowing them to play an even greater part in the delivery of public goods in the National Park.”
Robin Milton, Chair of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “With our environment and our climate in crisis, it’s vital we do more to support and enhance the great work many of our farmers are already doing to make our National Parks greener, healthier, happier and even more beautiful places. We’re extremely grateful to Defra for the opportunity to demonstrate what our concept could deliver to help inspire greener ways of farming right across the country.”