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UK to pay farmers to protect their local environment

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The government has said it will offer farmers increased payments for protecting the local environment and delivering sustainable food production.

The changes mean farmers could receive up to a further £1,000 per year for taking nature-friendly action through the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

This new Management Payment will be made for the first 50 hectares of farm (£20/ha), to cover the administrative costs of participation. SFI is already paying farmers to improve soil and moorlands, and an expanded set of standards for 2023 will be published shortly.

The announcement follows a joint letter to Rishi Sunak in November urging him not to backtrack on reforms to agriculture policy that are designed to help farmers improve the environment and nature.

Farmers with a Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreement will also see an average increase of 10 per cent to their revenue payment rates – covering ongoing activity such as habitat management.

Defra is also updating capital payment rates, which cover one-off projects such as hedgerow creation, with an average increase of 48 per cent.

The changes are designed to push farmers into taking individual positive actions such as creating hedgerows and flower-rich grass areas on the edge of fields, and will support farmers and landowners in making space for nature alongside sustainable food production.

This move should help the UK meet legally binding environment targets and contribute to efforts designed to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.

In October, it was found that the government had made minimal progress on plans to meet its commitment of protecting 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030.

Farming minister Mark Spencer said: “As custodians of more than 70 per cent of our countryside, the nation is relying on its farmers to protect our landscapes as well as produce the high-quality food we are known for, and we are increasing payment rates to ensure farmers are not out of pocket for doing the right thing by the environment.”

National Farmers’ Union vice president David Exwood said farmers are having to make “crucial long-term decisions that are essential to running viable and profitable food producing businesses”.

“While some of these latest changes are welcome, including enhanced payments for farmers and landowners through the Countryside Stewardship scheme and the introduction of a Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) management payment, it risks being too little too late, especially given the current economic challenges we are experiencing and the rapid erosion of direct payments,” he said.

A study released by RSPB today called for a more strategic approach to wildlife-friendly farming schemes to recover England’s farmland bird populations.

To recover farmland birds by 10 per cent over the next decade, approximately one third of the lowland farmed landscape needs to be managed under higher-tier agri-environment agreements, it said.

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