Defra responds to rumours that ELMS could be scrapped

Media reports that the government is set to change or scrap the ELM subsidy schemes, backpedalling on its environmental commitments, “are simply not right”, Defra insists.

Defra has insisted it will not row back on its commitments to the environment, after news of an ELMS review prompted speculation that there could be changes or delays to the subsidy framework.

However, the NFU has said it called for a delay in the scheme’s introduction as it is not currently fit for purpose.

In its Growth Plan, the government announced plans to ‘reform bureaucratic processes in the planning system, create investment zones and unlock economic growth’. This prompted a backlash from environmental groups who feared this could impact existing protections for the environment.

Some farmers and landowners also reportedly became concerned after planned meetings with Defra on ELMS were cancelled, the BBC reported.

CLA president Mark Tufnell urged the government to put an end to the rumours ­– “not least because they only serve to damage confidence amongst farmers that the UK government is serious about moving away from the Common Agricultural Policy regime”.

Meanwhile, Soil Association head of farming policy, Gareth Morgan, said in a statement yesterday that the organisation had been “shocked” by media reports suggesting the government could ditch plans to pay farmers to protect nature and climate. He believes it would be a “catastrophic mistake” and a betrayal of not only nature and climate, but also the farmers who have invested in tests and trials for ELMS.

Cambridgeshire farmer Martin Lines, who is chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, also warned that delays to ELMS would deny farmers essential support needed to adapt to the changing climate.

“If the government is stalling ELMS, it is failing any duty of leadership in maintaining momentum and building resilience,” he is quoted by BBC News as saying.

“Simply not right”

In an attempt to quell the rumours, a Government spokesperson said: “Claims we intend to go back on our commitment to the environment are simply not right.

“A strong environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand. We have legislated through the Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision.

“We want every corner of our country to prosper too. Bureaucratic processes in the planning system do not necessarily protect the environment so, by making sure we have the right regulations for our nation, we can make this happen.”

In a recent blog, Defra clarified: ‘We’re not scrapping the schemes. In light of the pressures farmers are facing as a result of the current global economic situation, including spikes in input costs, it’s only right that we look at how best to deliver the schemes to see where and how improvements can be made.’

Not fit for purpose

NFU president Minette Batters welcomed the review, saying in a statement: “We’re pleased the government is reviewing the framework for future farming schemes to help ensure farm businesses are supported through the current economic challenges and can make progressive decisions to boost growth and farming’s contribution to the nation.”

She said that while the NFU supports the ‘public money for public goods’ policy, it called for a delay as the scheme was not ‘fit for purpose’ or ready to roll out in its current form.

“I hope this review works in partnership with farmers to develop a framework that enables farmers to produce food for the nation and enhance our environment.”

Defra said it will set out more details on plans to boost food security whilst strengthening in the role of farmers as stewards of the British countryside later this year.

The government has committed to restoring 75% of the 1 million hectares of sites to favourable condition; and protecting 30% of the UK’s land and ocean by 2030. It has published new guidance on investment zones to streamline and speed up delivery of development for jobs and homes.

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