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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

The evidence we use to develop our environmental land management schemes 

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: environmental land management schemes
A patchwork of fields including sheep and cows taken in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire.
Credit: Kumweni

We’re committed to ensuring that the policies underpinning our environmental land management schemes are based on the very latest and best possible evidence. 

By using quality evidence, we can deliver value for money, meet our environmental targets & climate commitments, maintain food production and support resilient rural communities.   

Bringing together the latest scientific literature and practitioner data is vital.  

One evidence source is the recently published qualitative environmental impact assessment (QEIA). In this post I’ll give an overview.  

The purpose of the QEIA was to understand the impact of environmental land management actions on agricultural land in England.  

This project assessed the impacts of 741 potential land management actions on land-based environmental targets and climate commitments.

We used 53 relevant environmental and cultural service indicators, such as reduced emissions of ammonia. 

The project, led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) drew on the expertise of a consortium of around 45 people. 

Together, they produced 10 evidence reviews containing over 1,000 pages of evidence and over 2,400 studies were referenced. 

These reviews covered important environmental themes such as soil health and air quality and looked at a range of topics, including whether an action should be spatially targeted to deliver benefits to the objectives. 

The evidence reviews then informed an integrated assessment. This comprised expert-derived qualitative impact scores for each land management action. 

This assessment was important to:  

  • understand which environmental land management actions would contribute towards the delivery of land-based environmental targets and climate commitments relevant to farming, including any negative effects on food production 
  • feed into value for money assessments, allowing for appraisal of land management actions and environmental land management schemes 
  • allow comparison across land management actions and therefore, provide policy with a greater understanding of the full impact of such actions. 

The QEIA sits within a wider evidence base from which we’ve drawn scheme content. 

This includes (but is not limited to): agri-environment schemes, monitoring and evaluation projects; Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Environmental Stewardship (ES) impact assessments and feasibility studies. 

Together, this evidence helps to build a picture of which actions should be considered for our environmental land management schemes.  

The QEIA also sits within the context of some of the longer-term work underway to inform our schemes. 

The Environmental Valuation Assessment Scenario Tool (EVAST) is one such project. EVAST is a Defra-funded integrated modelling tool that is under development (with the first stage still due for completion) by a UKCEH-led consortium including Forest Research, eftec, ADAS, Cranfield University and the British Trust for Ornithology. 

It is an ambitious undertaking that uses a specialised chain of coupled models driven by field-level data and covering a national scale.  

EVAST estimates the biodiversity, carbon, water quality and air quality benefits, and their associated monetary values that could be achieved through environmental land management schemes.  

Designed to support our decision making, the EVAST approach is deliberately cross-sectoral and scenario-driven. It highlights interactions, trade-offs and unintended consequences of land management decisions.  

Each EVAST scenario is co-developed with Defra and helps to build a picture of the different ways environmental land management can contribute to England’s land-based environmental targets and climate commitments. 

While we have an active programme of research to make predictions to inform scheme content, we are also building a programme by which to monitor and evaluate them. 

In early-stage development, and as part of a multi-year programme, the Environmental Research Collaboration for England (ERCE) is an important project in this space.  

It will develop innovative, proof-of-concept solutions to challenges in monitoring our environment, with a focus on accelerating integration of new technologies into Defra business processes.  

ERCE will also help us explore and assess which tools are best placed to support our land managers in delivering environmental outcomes. The monitoring and evaluation programme will provide real-world data to complement and validate our early assessments. 

If you have any questions about this work, please leave a comment below.

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  1. Comment by andrew smith posted on

    organic farmers need to be rewarded not overlooked

  2. Comment by Martin Vickery posted on

    Out of the consortium of 45 people who advised from UKCEH has any of them any practical experience of improving the land for wildlife?
    In fact has anyone on the team actually managed and improved a area of land themselves from a biodiversity perspective?

    • Replies to Martin Vickery>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Martin,

      This assessment was aimed at providing a broad picture of the impact across the board.

      This was important for understanding the types of impacts expected for a wide range of actions. It is important to note that this is only one assessment of many feeding into decisions on what we pay for in ELM schemes.

      We have an active monitoring and evaluation programme which assesses on-the-ground impacts from actions to complement this predictive assessment. We also routinely test the feasibility of actions with farmers and consider practitioner feedback.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  3. Comment by james. posted on

    Thank you for revealing this research, I looked at QEIA, Grasslands this morning. Rather intense reading and at the end I'm a bit confused! Looks like it's so complex whatever you do will be both good and bad [ and you might not know for 10years or more]. Throw in climate change and it's anyone's guess! I sense an ecologist is rather like a social worker [ it's so messy they can never get it right]. It is still correct to try and, say, increase flowering plants in grassland but I wouldn't like to be part of a payment on results system. Payment for doing [ in the hope of a result] is definitely the only way to operate a payment for public goods system.

    • Replies to james.>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, James.
      Best wishes,
      The Team

  4. Comment by TYLER SMITH posted on

    Is this the latest excuse/tool to force farmers to sell their own land through compulsory purchase orders?

    • Replies to TYLER SMITH>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Tyler,

      The Sustainable Farming Incentive is a voluntary scheme which provides farmers payments for delivering environmental outcomes which sit alongside food production.

      Recent heatwaves, droughts, flooding, and the loss of biodiversity all show that there is an urgent need to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate in order to maintain sustainable food production and a resilient rural community . Farmers are absolutely vital to these efforts, because they know their land best.

      That is why SFI has been designed in a way that allows farmers to freely choose what actions best suit their land. The QEIA is intended to be a helpful resource to farmers when choosing such actions.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  5. Comment by Dan Alford posted on

    Why have you left the uplands to the last minute, offering pittance in sfi payments while looking after the lowlands

    • Replies to Dan Alford>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Dan,

      We recognise the unique challenges that upland farmers face. We have taken and will continue to take action that ensures upland farmers have access to funding that supports delivery of our environmental objectives in their areas in England, alongside the sustainable production of food.

      For example, following feedback from farmers and stakeholders, we acted last year to change 5 actions where the prices were different for lowland and upland farmers. Farmers can now benefit from payment rates which are the same for upland and lowland farmers.

      Where upland and lowland payment rates have been made equal, we are combining the actions to make the scheme simpler, for example on woodland pasture.

      This post sets out the new and expanded offer for upland farmers:

      We're also hosting a webinar specifically for upland farmers at the end of the month. Members of the team will be there to go through the offer and answer questions:

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  6. Comment by rob yorke posted on

    Hello Anchen
    Quite a review in a short space of time by 45 'experts' from 10 organisations!

    I frisson of concern when I read "methodology used by the project team was an adapted approach to one developed by the Welsh Government for the proposed new Sustainable Farm Scheme". In many cases, peer-reviewed evidence is often not available for cultural ecosystem services, which themselves are key as to land managers do and don't embrace the suite of new options under ELMs.

    It would be good to discuss further,


    • Replies to rob yorke>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Rob,

      Thanks for taking the time to read the post and comment. As mentioned in the post, we want to base policy decisions on the best possible evidence available. We understand that the body of peer-reviewed research is always expanding, and it will sometimes take time for innovative approaches to be adequately studied.

      This is why we draw upon peer-reviewed journals, grey literature and practitioner evidence. When gathering practitioner evidence, we talk and listen to a wide range of farmers and other stakeholders to ensure their perspectives are reflected in our policies.

      Understandably there are a wide range of views regarding best practice in farming, which makes looking to properly peer-reviewed evidence more important.

      A big part of the grey literature comes from our long-standing agri-environment monitoring and evaluation programme. Through this, we consider both barriers to delivery as well as the impact of more targeted interventions on our cultural heritage. You might find this interesting:

      Other outputs from the programme can be accessed via Defra's Science Search:

      With best wishes,
      The Team

      • Replies to The Team>

        Comment by rob yorke posted on

        thank you for your reply

        I note this from the desktop study by academics "In promoting policies for providing ‘public money’ for the provision of ‘public goods’, adopting language that related to the lived experiences and everyday farming lives of the agreement holders could help improve understanding. For example, TFBs [Traditional Farm Buildings] could be used as case studies to illustrate different supporting, provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem service flows in a range of different circumstances and also to show how trade-offs are made between the provision of different services."

        I fear you may have answered my query in providing peer-reviewed research which works as evidence though may lack traction with practitioners on the ground ! It's not easy I know, but anyway, onwards!

        best wishes,

  7. Comment by Daniel F Stover posted on

    Please publish your impact assessments on food production of each of the actions proposed.

    • Replies to Daniel F Stover>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Daniel,

      The QEIA includes a food & fibre assessment alongside environment impacts for each action.

      Best wishes,
      The Team


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