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Environmental land management: a forward look 

Autumn Colours at Killerton with cow
Photograph by Alison Day

Through our new environmental land management schemes, we will pay farmers and land managers to enhance the natural environment alongside food production.

We recently opened the Sustainable Farming Incentive for applications. This year, we're offering 3 standards. Over the next 3 years, we will expand the scheme. We will add more standards and levels of ambition as more money is released from basic payments (BPS).

Next year, we will roll out an early version of our new Local Nature Recovery scheme to a limited number of people. Local Nature Recovery builds on Countryside Stewardship.

Through these 2 schemes, along with the large-scale bespoke Landscape Recovery projects, farmers and land managers will make a significant contribution to biodiversity, air quality, water quality and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

For example, improving soil health or making space for nature alongside farming by creating, maintaining and enhancing habitats on less productive or more difficult to manage areas of their farm.

These actions help us to reach our environmental targets. They will also contribute to the sustainability of farming for future generations. We are also considering how to maintain investment in heritage, access and engagement as part of our new schemes.

To plan ahead, farmers need to know what will be available through these schemes. We blogged about our plan to expand the Sustainable Farming Incentive over the next 3 years.

Later this year, we will publish full details of the 2023 Sustainable Farming Incentive standards and payment rates. We will also provide more detail on those to be rolled out.

This post gives more information about how we expect Local Nature Recovery to work. Later this year we will publish more details of the options that will be available and the early roll out.

How agreements will work 

Local Nature Recovery agreements will be with individuals, businesses or entities such as commons associations.

There is no requirement to work with others in your area, or any other organisations.  However, we want to encourage, enable and reward people to work together in local areas and take joined-up action to achieve bigger and better impact where that’s possible and appropriate.

For example, joining up agreements for land along rivers could maximise efficiencies for farmers and environmental outcomes.

We are testing ways of doing this through our tests and trials and will use the learning from those to inform the design of the scheme. 

As 70% of land in England is agricultural, we expect most of the participants in the scheme to be farmers, though other land managers are eligible   as they are in existing schemes.

We want all types of farmers to take part, including commoners and tenant farmers, small farms, and those with a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on their land. We are designing the scheme to actively enable this.

We’re looking at how we can apply some of the flexibility we’ve built into the Sustainable Farming Incentive to Local Nature Recovery.  This includes considering how to make changes mid-agreement and flexible application windows so agreements begin when it works best for you.

As is the case with the Sustainable Farming Incentive, it will be possible to enter part of your land into Local Nature Recovery   we don’t plan to include a requirement for the agreement to cover the whole farm. 

It will be possible to have both Sustainable Farming Incentive standards and Local Nature Recovery options, so long as the actions are compatible and we’re not paying you twice for the same actions.  

We are working to make our new schemes accessible and less bureaucratic.

You’ll be able to access Sustainable Farming Incentive standards and Local Nature Recovery options through a single service, and this service will also be the place to find capital grants and information about regulations. We'll blog about the single service approach in more detail soon. 

All standards and options will be presented in a clear and straightforward way. 

What we’ll pay for 

Sustainable Farming Incentive standards pay for actions that can be taken by any farmer to enhance the natural environment in the course of their farming activities. The scheme is designed to be straightforward, widely accessible and applicable. 

Local Nature Recovery will provide further, more targeted options. It will pay farmers and land managers to create, maintain and enhance habitats and other environmental features alongside farming, either in small, less productive or difficult to manage areas of the farm, or on a larger scale where that’s appropriate.  

Local Nature Recovery will pay for options, like Countryside Stewardship, and will operate in a similar way but with improvements that address feedback from previous schemes.

Farmers and land managers will be able to select the range of options that works for them. As well as many of the options currently available in Countryside Stewardship, we’ll also add new options to help us meet our ambitious environmental targets.

For those already in Countryside Stewardship or Higher Level Stewardship, you’ll be able to continue the work you’ve started in those schemes through a combination of Sustainable Farming Incentive standards and Local Nature Recovery options. You'll also be able to add in more ambitious actions.

We plan to make this transition as seamless as possible. Entering into a Countryside Stewardship agreement now will provide a good stepping stone to both the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Local Nature Recovery.

There are already around 30,000 farmers in existing schemes and we have reviewed the payment rates and revised them up, on average, by around 30%.  

We don’t plan to restrict the options available in any particular area, other than where they might cause damage or will not be capable of achieving their aims. For example: tree planting on established floodplain meadows or habitat creation for certain species that is outside their natural range, respectively. 

However, we do want to encourage and reward action in places where there is the potential to maximise impact, and we are testing ways of doing this. 

We plan to provide a mix of one-off and ongoing payments, to support capital investment and creation as well as the ongoing costs of maintaining and enhancing the natural environment.  

We are working collaboratively with farmers and other land managers to design the options. We’re making them less prescriptive and more flexible than existing schemes so that they are easier to work with across a range of farm settings.  

A few months ago, we shared more information on what Local Nature Recovery will pay for.

We will publish more information on the options and payment rates later this year, along with information about how those in existing schemes will be able to transfer across to Local Nature Recovery. 

Payment rates 

We expect to base payment rates for options on an updated calculation of income foregone plus costs. This is the fairest way to set consistent prices and provide a predictable and stable income from schemes

We are continuing to test how we could pay more to incentivise really ambitious actions and additional results, doing the right things in the right places where this delivers better outcomes, and local join-up to achieve greater impact.

We may introduce some or all of these features into the scheme, depending on what we learn in our ongoing testing and early rollout of the scheme. 

Local Support 

Through our tests and trials work and conversations with farmers, we have consistently heard about the importance of local advice and facilitation. We want farmers to be able to work together to deliver bigger and better outcomes, and local advisers can play an important part in making that happen.

We’re also looking at what we can learn and replicate from Catchment Sensitive Farming and Farming in Protected Landscapes, where there has been positive feedback about the way advice and support are provided.  

More information about our plan for advisers will be published later this year. In the meantime, we want to encourage farmers to take up existing offers of support through the Future Farming Resilience Fund to work through how they can best position themselves for the future.   

We’ll also have a new facilitation offer building on what we’ve learned from the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund. We are working on how we can make this more flexible and straightforward than the existing offer, as well as potentially adding new features such as advice. 

Rollout plan 

We will continue to design and test the more innovative elements of the new scheme throughout 2022 and into 2023. This will complement what we learn from tests and trials.  

We plan to make core elements of the scheme available to a limited number of people from 2023, and will roll out the full scheme to all by the end of 2024. 

Similar to the Sustainable Farming Incentive, we will iterate and improve the scheme over time in response to feedback and learning about what works.  

Together the Sustainable Farming Incentive standards and Local Nature Recovery options will form a complete offer to farmers to get paid for producing environmental outcomes alongside food production.

We are working with farmers to design the standards and options together to make sure they complement each other and work on the ground. 

We’ll continue that co-design work as we roll out the schemes so that we can improve them as we go.  

Next Steps 

Later this year, we will publish more details on the Sustainable Farming Incentive standards and Local Nature Recovery options.

We will also provide more information on how farmers in Countryside Stewardship and Higher Level Stewardship agreements can move into the new environmental land management schemes. 

Following this:   

  • in February 2023, Countryside Stewardship applications will open for agreements starting in 2024
  • in 2023, a limited offer of Local Nature Recovery options will be available to a small number of land managers to test new processes. The full offer will be available to all by the end of 2024
  • from 2025 the England Woodland Creation Offer will become part of Local Nature Recovery.

If you have any questions about our approach, do leave a comment below.

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  1. Comment by John W. Baxter posted on

    You have to make the people at the Forestry Commission much more flexible in their approach to applicants wanting to create woodlands on riparian fringes which can be broken up by water courses, making them ineligible because of parcel sizes. This is the kind of attitude and thinking that annoys participants and leads them like me to say ‘ I m out’.......could you please get them thinking outside of the silo?. Thank you

    • Replies to John W. Baxter>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi John,

      Thank you for visiting the blog. We passed on your comment to colleagues in the Forestry Commission, who wish to thank you for taking the time to give feedback.

      In reply, they said that they will continue to improve EWCO in response to feedback from users.

      They added that, at the moment, to be eligible for a EWCO agreement, your application must cover a minimum area of 1 hectare with individual blocks of at least 0.1 hectare each.

      Blocks must have a minimum width of 20 metres (with the exception of riparian buffers and shelterbelts, which can have a minimum width of 10 metres). They will continue to review eligibility requirements.

      If you'd like to speak to the team about your application, you can email them

      We hope that helps,
      The Team

  2. Comment by Barrie Crowther posted on


    • Replies to Barrie Crowther>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hello Barrie,

      Thank you for your comment. Food is still the primary purpose of farming, and always will be.

      As we said in a recent blog post, that planting trees doesn’t have to come at the expense of food production:

      Trees grow well in less productive soils. Well-designed and well-managed woodlands can also support the foundations of food production: healthy soil, cleaner water, and biodiverse ecosystems. Trees and woodlands can help farm businesses become more diverse, economically and ecologically resilient.

      They can provide new streams of income from timber, carbon units, and through recreation.

      Together with famers and land managers, we're designing schemes that work for farm businesses, food production and the environment.

      Free business advice to is available to farmers in England who receive BPS and we encourage all farmers to get in touch with a local, independent adviser who can talk them through the new schemes that we're introducing and work out a plan for their farm.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  3. Comment by Barrie Crowther posted on

    You have not answered the question re. how will this sustain small family farms which are sited on good arable land ? These famers do not want to take parts of their land out of crops its the only thing which has kept them for years. Bit unfortunate but we can't eat leaves or bark. Payment rates not good enough either seeing maintenance is part of the deal.

    • Replies to Barrie Crowther>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Barrie,

      We are developing our new environmental land management schemes so that there is an offer for all farm types. There is no minimum amount of land that can be entered into the Sustainable Farming Incentive, for example.

      We’re not asking anyone to choose between food and environment: our view is that food production, farm businesses and environment can and must go hand in hand. For many farmers, improving the environment will support food production. In cases where land use change is needed, improvements in productivity in other areas will offset to some extent any reduction in food production. Balancing and integrating food production with our environmental land management will support an efficient and sustainable land use without offshoring harms associated with lower production standards.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

      • Replies to The Team>

        Comment by Edwina Wakley posted on

        Well said but I fear our voices will be drowned out. These schemes without the buffer of the BPS which formed part of the farming income, not a bonus, can potentially take out the smaller farms. It does not seem that they are fully appreciated for what they do for nature anyway as part of their farming, but they do keep food production high on the list and help preserve the rural communities.

  4. Comment by Jane Hulton-Harrop posted on

    From my perspective, the emphasis should be on rewarding farmers who have already begun balancing and integrating environmentally sensitive activites whch will make huge differences to the future of the ecosystem processes and the cliimate.

    Many responsible initatives are already in place. We should encourage their sustainability and not always focus on and reward, new works.

    • Replies to Jane Hulton-Harrop>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Jane,

      Thanks taking the time to visit and share your view. You're right - many farmers and land managers are already doing brilliant things to protect and enhance our environment. We will recognise them in our new schemes and make it easier for others join this growing movement.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  5. Comment by Joe Amber posted on

    So many opportunities to do things on unused corners of the farm. Looking forward to getting more details of the options and more information on what priorities are for the local area - I want the community to know what I'm doing for the local environment!

    • Replies to Joe Amber>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for visiting the blog and for your enthusiastic comment! We agree. Stay tuned to the blog for more details.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  6. Comment by Richard Styles posted on

    We seem to be ahead of the game here. We have been 'Rewilding' for over 30 years, and its ghastly to find that I have become fashionable.
    Basically, we simply leave the various woodlands and areas of grass/scrub and water alone. We do not go in these areas, nor allow anyone else them. This allows all wildlife to flourish without human interference. No humans, lots of wildlife.
    How do you plan to pay me for these areas where I will not be doing anything?
    Well I will be doing things. I will be allowing Nature, in all its wonderful natural beauty, to carry on without me getting in the way.
    We use an organisation to help us achieve this success. Its called Mother Nature.
    I note that a Wildlife organisation in Scotland has been granted a 3 million pound grant to help re-wild an area. The money will be used to create a car park and visitor centre.
    Joni Mitchell was quite right in her song 'Big Yellow Taxi'. "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot"
    Honestly, you could not make it up.
    Richard Styles

    • Replies to Richard Styles>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for visiting the blog and for leaving a comment. It's nice to read what you're doing (and, indeed, not doing) on your land for the good of the environment.

      Farmers and land managers up and down the country have already moved to more sustainable practices. We're working to make sure that other farmers can also join this growing movement. Those who are already carrying out the actions in our new schemes will be paid.

      Local Nature Recovery, for example, is open to farmers, foresters and other land managers. It will pay for actions to make space for nature in the farmed landscape and the wider countryside, alongside food production. This could include, for example, farmers managing and creating habitats, adding trees to fields or hedgerows, storing water, or restoring peat or wetland areas in appropriate areas.

      You might've read about the Sustainable Farming Incentive. Farmers may already be doing some of the desired actions on their land. If this is the case, these will usually count towards achieving the standard’s aims, for which they will be paid. The standards contained within the scheme are designed to support a range of farmers. This includes those who are beginning to adopt sustainable practices, as well as those who are already experienced in these, who will be rewarded for increasing the ambition of their land management.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  7. Comment by Chris Pedlar posted on

    Is there a minimum land holding as many small holdings were not eligible previously?

    • Replies to Chris Pedlar>

      Comment by Sarah Stewart posted on

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your question. As it relates to schemes that are open: there is no minimum amount of land that can be entered into the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

      To be eligible for a England Woodland Creation Offer agreement, your application must cover a minimum area of 1 hectare with individual blocks of at least 0.1 hectare each. Blocks must have a minimum width of 20 metres (with the exception of riparian buffers and shelterbelts, which can have a minimum width of 10 metres).

      I hope this helps,

  8. Comment by Jonathan posted on

    Hi there,
    Is the scheme still all on track? I heard the Liz Truss government was not a great fan although we are now waiting for a new PM. As I am a great supporter of re-wilding, I hope it is all being implemented. It would be great to know what the legal status and time line is for the plans. Eg has legislation already been passed ? Was it covered in the Environment Act of 2021 ? When is roll-out ?
    It is great to read by the way that landowners are already doing things to encourage the resurgence of nature.
    Many thanks


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