Environmental Land Management Scheme
Make your voice heard:
CLOSING DATE FOR COMMENTS 5th May 2020
Overview of Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) Response
• The main requirement is for political commitment to finally tackle the issue of pollution by inappropriate land use - particularly relevant to our rivers and aquatic life (EA River Axe N2K Catchment Regulatory Project Report 2019)
• The continual cuts in the EA’s budget and resourcing needs urgently addressing, otherwise this ELM will fail through lack of effective monitoring and, where necessary, enforcement
• Whether it be breaches of diffuse pollution rules by farmers, deliberate release of slurry, or just ‘bad practice,’ we already have sufficient legislation in place to deal with these issues. What we need is independent monitoring, inspection and robust enforcement of ELM (See River Axe Report below on the use of the Red Tractor assurance scheme) that shows persistent offenders they are far more likely to be identified and potentially prosecuted than at present – ie a 1 in 200 chance each year of having a farm inspection
• We refence our evidence to EFRA on diffuse pollution and farming rules (attached) that shows that Codes of Practice for farmers going back to the 1980s have been saying roughly the same thing and yet we still suffer huge damage from poor land use, because there has been no enforcement ( see River Axe Report, page 17, para 11, Despite significant amounts of advice and grant aid in the last 10-15 years, there has been an absence of basic regulation).
S&TC ELMS Response 2020
6. Do you have any comments on the design principles on page 14? Are they the right ones? Are there any missing?
Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) does have some concerns over the design principles. We fully support the overall objective in (a) of focusing on achieving environmental outcomes and helping to deliver Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan and net zero target. However, there are some aspects of the design principles which require tighter definition if the proposed environmental outcomes are to be achieved:
Under (e), the proposal is that farmers, foresters and other land managers have greater flexibility over how they deliver environmental outcomes. While this might be acceptable as a general rule, there are current impacts of poor land management on rivers and watercourses that require targeted remedial action as a matter of urgency, and much closer protection in the future, if aquatic ecosystems are to be healthy and support abundant biodiversity. S&TC’s Riverfly Census data shows that pesticides, excess phosphates and sediment, much of it sourced from poor land management, impact many English watercourses, and these require specific remedial measures to restore and protect our river systems. For instance, we believe that improved soil management will solve many stressors impacting watercourses, but this requires incentives for land managers to concentrate on the specific outcome of their actions, rather than allowing flexibility which might not deliver the required result.
Under (f), you state that you wish to ensure minimal complexity and administrative burden for participants and administrators, considering lessons learned from similar past initiatives. This is a worrying objective, because S&TC believes that one of the strongest lessons learned from past initiatives is that, without sufficient monitoring and, where necessary, enforcement, environmental damage to rivers will continue. We go into more detail below under question 15, but there has to be much tighter control over land managers so that they achieve genuinely effective outcomes in terms of river protection, before they receive public subsidies. We therefore see Flexibility as a potential barrier to this new scheme achieving its environmental objectives.
Under (g), we fully support the harnessing of new technology and digital solutions if they can be shown to add value and improve the scheme design and operation. Again, we go into more detail below under 15, but if self-monitoring is to continue to be a significant part of this scheme, then participants will have to provide far better evidence that their actions have achieved the required environmental outcomes, and we believe that modern technology could have a major role to play in that scenario.
Under (i), S&TC is not in favour of re-using / improving existing systems and data. We believe that the existing system has frequently failed to protect watercourses, wild fish stocks and aquatic wildlife and that a completely fresh look is required as to how environmental objectives can be genuinely achieved. We of course appreciate that land management produces an important proportion of our food supply, but we can no longer use that as an excuse for allowing environmental damage on the scale of the past few decades, especially when we believe that solutions are available that benefit farmers at the same time as protecting river corridors – i.e. zero tillage arable farming where appropriate, which allows natural processes to improve soil quality and water permeability while keeping soil on the field rather than allowing it to run-off into watercourses during storm events, taking with it residues of chemical toxins and excess nutrients.
7. Do you think that the ELM scheme as currently proposed will deliver each of the objectives on page 8?
The objectives are:
"To secure a range of positive environmental benefits, prioritising between environmental outcomes where necessary" – as stated above, S&TC’s data has shown the significant current impact on our rivers from farming activities over recent decades. At the very least, environmental objectives that must be achieved under the new scheme include the restoration of watercourses and their future protection. We believe that this is a major priority and anything less than minimising future agricultural impact on rivers and their ecosystems must be regarded as a failure. We are well aware of the stressors on our river systems and the solutions required to address their impact, and so the proposed ELM scheme has to incentivise land managers to undertake the necessary measures or be prepared to enforce legislation and withhold payments until relevant measures are undertaken. Anything less than this will signal a failure of the system and our rivers will continue to be impacted by poor land management activities.
"To help tackle some of the environmental challenges associated with agriculture, focusing on how to address these in the shorter term" – this is exactly what S&TC means, but we are disappointed by the weak language.
As above, we know what needs to be done, and the current impacts on our watercourses need urgent remedial action under a comprehensive plan, rather than under a system where just some of the environmental challenges are addressed, which is far too ambiguous for what is required to achieve environmental objectives under the 25 Year Plan. Measures must be put in place under ELM that genuinely minimise the danger of either point of diffuse pollution entering watercourses – measures such as improved soil management, livestock exclusion from streams, effective slurry storage and disposal etc.
In summary, S&TC believes that these objectives go some way towards greater environmental protection, but that Defra needs to tighten them if the environmental objectives contained within the 25 Year Plan are to be achieved for watercourses and aquatic biodiversity.
8. What is the best way to encourage participation in ELM? What are the key barriers to participation, and how do we tackle them?
S&TC believes that the scheme should lead with sufficient incentives to encourage land managers to participate, but that participation should be compulsory, at least for those managers who have the potential to adversely impact sensitive habitats, especially river corridors. Protecting rivers on a catchment basis is essential due to their connectivity, where just a few polluters can negate all the good work done by neighbours who take their responsibilities toward river protection seriously. In these instances, the carrot of incentives must be supported by effective enforcement of those who continue to pollute rivers.
We do not wish to denigrate those land managers who have protected the particular environments within their land holdings under past schemes, and much good environmental protection work has undoubtedly been undertaken by many land managers. However, our evidence, alongside many other datasets, prove that rivers in particular continue to be adversely impacted by poor land management, and so past subsidies/cross compliance schemes have obviously been insufficient to protect rivers and aquatic biodiversity. This has to change under ELM.
S&TC believes that one of the main reasons for participation in the past has been the ease with which subsidies have been distributed with very little monitoring or enforcement of, for example, cross compliance – i.e. the widespread perception that the public should not expect environmental benefits in return for subsidies. Many land managers appear to have thought that they had little chance of being prosecuted for failing to achieve cross-compliance – a reputed 1 in 263 chance of having a farm inspected in any one year – and so took the risk. With the tightening of environmental objectives that must be included within ELM, there is the potential for land managers to shy away from the initiative because they see the monitoring/enforcement issue as making their responsibilities under the scheme too onerous.
We believe that a fair distribution of incentives to encourage the adoption of actions to achieve environmental objectives, supported by strong, well-resourced monitoring and enforcement, is essential for this scheme to be successful – it has to be financially attractive enough for widespread uptake, but sufficiently monitored/enforced to ensure compliance. It will also require education for some land managers that they can no longer expect subsidies without providing a return in terms of public benefit.
However, if voluntary participation still does not protect our watercourses effectively, S&TC believes that mandatory inclusion in the scheme, supported by strong, well-resourced enforcement for any persistent offenders, is the only way to reverse the decline in ecosystem health across many of our river systems. A voluntary approach has not worked under previous schemes and we have deep reservations that it will work under ELM unless the conditions are strong enough in terms of achieving environmental outcomes and strictly adhered to through effective monitoring.
S&TC is beginning to work with farm clusters in river catchments to monitor the success of measures designed to protect rivers, and farm clusters have been very successful in coordinating terrestrial environmental improvements in recent years. Individual land managers working within clusters are far more likely to be encouraged to adopt ELM actions and so this form of cooperation should be further encouraged throughout the country.
9. For each tier we have given a broad indication of what types of activities could be paid for. Are we focussing on the right types of activity in each tier?
Tier 1 – S&TC believes these are exactly the issues which need to be included in Tier 1 to make the scheme successful. As discussed above, data from our Riverfly Census, which used species-level invertebrate analysis to produce water quality biometrics, provided evidence that the greatest stressors on English rivers are chemicals including pesticides, sediment and excess phosphate, much of which is derived from poor land management. If the measures in Tier 1 were adopted by all farmers with watercourses running through their land, then riverine water quality and ecosystem health would undoubtedly benefit and we could begin to reverse the degradation of recent years.
However, S&TC is adamant that subsidies should be paid against outcomes, not against proposed actions. The latter will, in effect, only perpetuate the cross-compliance element of previous schemes which have been shown to be ineffective at protecting river corridors. There has to be a level of monitoring to ensure that actions have been taken and outcomes delivered before funds are received, otherwise we cannot see how environmental objectives will be achieved in anything other than a piecemeal fashion which, as already stated, is insufficient for river protection because of the connectivity issue within watercourses.
While flexibility might be a preferred option in attracting land managers to participate in ELM, we do not believe that allowing a choice of actions from a menu is sufficient to protect the water environment. We strongly believe that there should be basic standards set for all land managers, especially those with watercourses flowing through their land, to which their actions must be targeted. Those that adopt those actions responsibly and provide the required public benefit should receive subsidies, whereas those that do not should have to improve the quality of their outcomes before subsidies are paid – with strong enforcement for persistent offenders.
S&TC is pleased that the Payment by Results trial run for Defra by Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park, is showing encouraging results and we believe this is the way forward to best deliver public benefit in return for subsidies to land managers.
While we would far prefer well-resourced monitoring and enforcement from the government regulator, we fully appreciate that lack of funding could make official monitoring ineffective. We could therefore support the idea of Smart self-monitoring if the evidence produced by land managers was strong enough to show proof of required environmental outcomes under the scheme – and then subsidies paid in arrears on receipt of that evidence (see response to question 15 below). Any self-monitoring must be robust with both the methods used and the results obtained being routinely published and made accessible to the wider public.
Tier 2 – S&TC supports the types of activities included under Tier 2. Our concerns for monitoring and payments are similar to Tier 1 above, but we are more encouraged that, Defra is suggesting that tier 2 payments could initially be based on actions, offering top-up payments for delivery of additional results (where output result indicators can be tested and proven to be feasible). Over the longer term, where land manager experience and confidence has been established and our methods for monitoring outcomes have advanced, we could move towards pure results-based payments for certain outputs where tested and proven to be feasible.
Again, though, monitoring is an issue and we would urge that more resources are made available by Defra/The Treasury for monitoring, both in terms of researching the effectiveness of actions under Tier 2 and compliance that environmental protection is delivered and continues over time.
As an example of our concerns, S&TC understands that the overall EA agricultural budget is £650,000 pa, but that covers more than just monitoring/enforcing the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution Regulations 2018 ie it includes groundwater inspections for sheep dip and pesticides, running advisory events, making planning visits and dealing with planning and grant applications. Therefore, only a fraction is for compliance visits and enforcement action.
Assuming, say, a probably optimistic half of this agricultural budget is aimed at monitoring the 2018 Regulations, that would equate to £325,000pa. DEFRA (2016 farm survey) states that there are some 106,000 farm businesses in England, so this budget would equate to just £3 per farm business in terms of monitoring and enforcement of diffuse pollution impact. While we appreciate that farm visits are evidence led, this is still a tiny fraction of the budget required to ensure minimising environmental impact on rivers and aquatic ecosystems from poor land management.
The EA states that, for 2018/2019, they made 403 farm visits, (as against the 106,000 farm businesses), since the 2018 Regulations came into force – which equates to approximately 0.4% of farms having received a visit. Even following an evidence-led campaign, this is quite obviously a totally inappropriate level of monitoring to ensure effective environmental protection and the delivery of public benefit outcomes – a 1 in 263 chance of a farm being inspected in any one year.
Tier 3 – S&TC agrees with the overall thinking around Tier 3, which is looking at landscape-scale environmental objectives. S&TC, alongside other environmental organisations relevant to watercourse and aquatic ecosystem protection, believes that management at the catchment scale is the only way to be truly effective in restoring ecosystem health within rivers and protecting them for the future. With this in mind, cooperation between the three Tiers would be essential in ensuring that, for instance, actions in Tier 1 and Tier 2, as well as contributing to local environmental protection, are planned as part of an overall catchment plan for individual river systems.
We believe this is the best way of ensuring maximum return for subsidies and grants and has the potential to provide multiple public benefits. For example, adopting natural flood defences by reversing upland drainage and restoring wetlands on marginal agricultural land, will result in storm-event run-off decreasing as more water is stored in headwaters and flood plains, resulting in more even river flow regimes to better control downstream flooding, with added benefits to biodiversity, especially within aquatic ecosystems.
10. Delivering environmental outcomes across multiple land holdings will in some places be critical. For example, for establishing wildlife corridors or improving water quality in a catchment. What support do land managers need to work together within ELM, especially in Tiers 2 & 3?
As in our response to question 8 above, farm clusters are a proven way of coordinating environmental protection actions across a catchment/landscape and should be further encouraged. However, land managers are not necessarily specialists at environmental planning and will require advice to maximise the benefit of landscape-scale measures. This should be coordinated by the government regulator but must be sufficiently funded to make the process effective.
The Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) is an inclusive, civil society-led initiative that works in partnership with Government, Local Authorities, Water Companies, businesses and more, to maximise the natural value of our river environments, and coordinating ELM with existing CaBA groups and farm clusters would be an advantage in delivering maximum public benefit, especially at Tier 2 & 3 scales. Again, though, increased resources are required to make the catchment-based planning and delivery approach truly effective.
11. While contributing to national environmental targets (such as climate change mitigation) is important, ELM should also help to deliver local environmental priorities, such as in relation to flooding or public access. How should local priorities be determined.
We have covered this issue above in terms of the part ELM could play in natural flood defence, and the knock-on benefits that would have to aquatic biodiversity. Local priorities must be determined at catchment level and, again as above, the CaBA approach has a role to play in bringing together local stakeholders to agree priorities. Once agreements have been reached, one organisation needs to take ownership of delivering actions and achieving outcomes and S&TC believes this should be the national regulator answerable to DEFRA.
12. What is the best method for calculating payments rates for each tier, taking into account the need to balance delivering value for money, providing a fair payment to managers, and maximising environmental benefit.
S&TC is not qualified to comment on this question
13. To what extent might there be opportunities to blend public with private finance for each of the 3 tiers?
S&TC is not qualified to comment on this question
14. As we talk to land managers and look back on what has worked from previous schemes, it is clear that access to an adviser is highly important to successful environmental schemes. Is advice always needed? When is advice most likely to be needed by a scheme participant?
We believe that, to make an environmental scheme successful, specialist advice is required at both the planning stage – especially for Tier 2 & 3 initiatives – and prior to, and probably during, delivery of actions. As stated above, land managers are not necessarily specialist environmentalists and so they will require guidance if their actions are to be effective in achieving objectives.
However, the Environment Agency Report on the impact of agriculture, especially dairy farming and maize growing, on the River Axe Special Area of Conservation, is highly relevant:
Despite over a decade of advisory visits in the period up to 2016, the catchment continued to decline and there were no significant improvements in farming practices. 95% of farms did not comply with storage regulations and 49% of farms were polluting the river Axe. (EA River Axe N2K Catchment Regulatory Project Report 2019)
Clearly, as the River Axe case study shows, advice alone is insufficient in protecting the environment. There must be suitable incentives to encourage farmers to participate in environmental schemes, and effective enforcement for those who persist in ignoring advice or incentives and continue to pollute rivers. The Axe report states:
"The Environment Agency secured £120,000 in local funding for a three-year regulatory farm visit campaign during the winter periods 2016 to 2019, during which time we carried out 86 farm audits. As a result of these advice-led but regulatory visits farmers in the catchment have either constructed or are in the process of constructing 33 slurry stores, 3 silage clamps, 10 fuel stores and have carried out 21 infrastructure repairs.
These infrastructure investments are estimated to total nearly 4 million pounds and were sourced by both farmers and from grant aid incentives. Or put another way, every pound spent by the Environment Agency in regulatory visits has resulted in investment of £33 for infrastructure improvements."
This case study clearly shows that the combination of the right incentives, but supported by effective regulation, can have multiple benefits for the environment and, therefore, for the public. The River Axe Report also states:
"All the improvements have been achieved without recourse to prosecutions or formal cautions, although we made it clear these would be the sanctions should compliance not be reached. A minimal number of notices were served to secure compliance and a number of warning letters were sent in response to actual pollution incidents observed during the visits.
This evaluation clearly demonstrates the power of advice, backed up by regulation and supported by financial incentives to create positive benefits for water quality. Neither advice, incentives nor regulation delivered in isolation of the others will generate the desired environmental improvements in water quality."
Apart from this excellent and ground-breaking work on the River Axe, elsewhere the EA has recorded just 14 breaches of the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution Regulations since April 2018 – equating to just 3.5% of the 403 visits discussed under Question 9 above (Tier 2), even though these visits were, apparently, evidence led. There has been no hard enforcement of those 14 breaches, merely the sending of 7 warning letters.
S&TC therefore believes that Defra and the EA have much to learn – and urgently replicate – from the River Axe case study.
15. We do not want the monitoring of ELM agreements to feel burdensome to land managers but we will need some information that shows what’s being done in fulfilling the ELM agreement. This would build on any remote sensing, satellite imagery and site visits we deploy. How might self-assessment work? What methods or tools, for example photographs, might be used to enable an agreement holder to be able to demonstrate that they’re doing what they signed up to do?
As already discussed, monitoring of outcomes is essential if ELM is to be more effective at achieving environmental objectives than previous schemes have been. We fundamentally disagree with the statements made on page 9 (h) that, under previous schemes, the compliance requirements placed on land managers were overly complex and demanding, or that, In the past, where land managers have been found to be in breach of their agreements, the approach to enforcement has been overly-punitive and harsh. We believe that one of the major problems with past schemes has been the failure to monitor and, where necessary, enforce compliance. The EA River Axe N2K Catchment Regulatory Project Report 2019 has shown the reality of what happens within a river catchment when land managers are not properly regulated, and frankly gives a lie to the notion that farmers have been over-burdened by legislation and enforcement in the past. The Report also clearly shows that, to be effective, the ELM scheme will require, "The power of advice, backed up by regulation and supported by financial incentives to create positive benefits for water quality…."
S&TC recently undertook an audit of agricultural codes of good practiced published by DEFRA and its forerunner departments over the past four decades. The most telling issue was that we already have all the codes and written advice we require to protect watercourses from agricultural impact. Fundamentally, what is missing is the commitment to enforce these Codes via legislation, as witnessed by the fact that a land manager has approximately a one in two hundred chance each year of being inspected by the regulator. The very soft touch regulation so far being applied in the case of the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018 merely continues this failure. This smacks of a lack of political commitment to challenge land managers, especially the agriculture sector.
S&TC fully supports initiatives that incentivise land managers to protect the environment, but anything like cross-compliance has already been proven to be totally inadequate in achieving environmental objectives. It is S&TC’s firm belief that Defra, supported by the Treasury, has to commit far greater funds to ensure that ELM achieves its public benefit targets, otherwise the scheme is doomed to failure.
For ELM to work, it must be properly incentivised, monitored, the rules enforced and any breaches sufficiently penalised to discourage non-compliance.
However, S&TC also believes that modern digital technology could be utilised to allow a level of self-assessment for Tier 1 initiatives, but this must not be an excuse for a lack of official monitoring. The self-assessment evidence must be compulsory, submitted to the regulator within strict timelines and properly scrutinised before compliance is confirmed.
16. Do you agree with the proposed approach to the National Pilot? What are the key elements of ELM that you think we should test during the Pilot?
With the plan to run two large Pilots for Tier 1, we suggest that one is conducted with payment of subsidies up-front for actions, on a par with existing schemes, while the other has subsidies paid in arrears subject to environmental outcomes.
For Tier 2 & 3, the planning will be critical, together with the actions required to achieve the agreed target outcomes, who should deliver the actions and what advice is required to assist delivery.
However, S&TC is concerned at the lack of ambition in relying on Pilots until 2024, with the roll-out to the whole industry coming after that date. Under the Water Framework Directive, at least 75% of rivers must be in good ecological status by 2027 if the main objective is to be met. Currently, just 14% of rivers achieve GES, with poor land management one of the major reasons for lack of achievement. Leaving just three years to reverse the ecological declines due to agricultural stressors is totally unrealistic. However, as previously stated, we already have the legislative powers to enforce regulation on poor land management, and so the national regulator must be given increased resources, supported by strong political commitment, to tackle offenders now.
17. Do you have any other comments on the proposals set out in this document?
S&TC leaves the final word to the EA River Axe N2K Catchment Regulatory Project Report 2019:
"All the farms visited are Red Tractor Assured. The findings of this campaign demonstrate that Red Tractor is not effective at assuring farms are meeting environmental regulations
To maintain these improvements (gained under a three-year regulatory farm visit campaign during the winter periods 2016 to 2019), dedicated EA officers, with the skills to engage farmers will be needed. Having secured investment in basic infrastructure, further regulatory improvements could be gained by focusing on wider land management in the catchment."
The approach taken in this catchment could clearly be transferred to other priority catchments in the country to generate similar improvements for relatively small regulatory investment.