University of Reading: No Voice For Many Farmers Over Critical Environmental Land Management Schemes, Parliamentary Report Says

Farmers and landowners are being left out of Government engagement over land management schemes, parliamentarians warn in a new report about biodiversity targets.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has released a new report on biodiversity in the UK today (30th June), including recommendations from researchers at the University of Reading and University of Sheffield.

Drawing on research from Dr David Rose from the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading, the report notes that farmers and landowners who are ‘hard to reach’ are crucial to ensuring that Environmental Land Management schemes being rolled out to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy work in order to deliver on the UK’s biodiversity targets.

Dr David Rose, Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at the University of Reading said:

“Our research has heard from farmers and agriculture partners who are saying that the current systems are failing to engage with many people for whom the ELM scheme is going to be crucial. Feedback includes hearing about farmers who have had to drive to a fast food chain to access WiFi to take part in consultations, and it’s clear that the Government needs to do more for these hard to reach groups.

“I am pleased that the Environmental Audit Committee have taken on board our recommendations and we stand ready to work with Defra to ensure farmers and farm groups can make ELM schemes work meaningfully for our environment.”

In evidence given to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee as part of its inquiry on Biodiversity and Ecosystems, lead author of the research Dr Ruth Little from the University of Sheffield urged the need to reach out beyond the usual suspects to include harder to reach communities in developing the new Environmental Land Management scheme, which will be a key mechanism for delivering environmental gains.

The research, based on findings from the Agri-Environmental Governance Post-Brexit project, highlights the potential benefits of consulting farmers and other land managers, like foresters, gamekeepers and landowners, so that policy can reflect their needs and land managers feel like they have a stake in the successful operation of the scheme.

This includes making provision for tailored farm-specific advice, farm visits, demonstration farms, and other knowledge-exchange activities that support the achievement of biodiversity goals.

Dr Ruth Little, Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Sheffield, said:

“Getting the new Environmental Land Management scheme right will be critical to the protection of both landscapes and livelihoods. This is the most significant change to agricultural policy in 70 years and could make a real difference to our ability to hit biodiversity targets and achieve net zero by 2050.

“It is great that the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has listened to our recommendations in their new report on Biodiversity in the UK. The identification of agricultural and environmental ‘win-wins’ and the development of more inclusive ELM policy will be crucial in generating a more sustainable food future with a clearer focus on maintaining and improving biodiversity”

The research, which was conducted in collaboration with the University of Reading, also found that farmers want to see less red tape and better access to the internet so that they can engage with the Government’s sustainable farming plans. With some farmers having to travel to the nearest McDonald’s to access wifi, the experts have already called for a simplified bureaucracy and the creation of non-digital ways for farmers to get involved.

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