To read the first part of my write up 'Reflections from Groundswell' before the second part below, click here.

Finally I would like to try and piece together all I have learned from farming friends, partners and academics recently and combine that with what I learned at Groundswell and how that might feed into ELM (especially our trial in the Upper Thames, if it is to have the contribution in design that is being suggested by Defra).

Firstly, the principle must be that we need a payment for public goods that supports sustainable agriculture where the goal is well aggregated, biodiverse, carbon rich soil that helps recover the water, carbon and nitrogen cycles using the principles of conservation agriculture. 

But here is the rub – we cannot reference agriculture in the design of any public goods ELM scheme.  This is what I learned from Professor Janet Dwyer and my own research. If we develop a payment mechanism that is linked in any way to support for commodity production, then we are at risk of falling foul of the World Trade Rules ( Green and Amber Box) that only allow governments to support commodity production based on income forgone, to avoid international distortion of markets.  Therefore, we must move away from income forgone as the vital first step in ELM design.  We need to support our land managers in delivering public goods that reflect the economic benefit of the services they provide, not based on a payment of the agriculture it might displace.  We also need to make a case to HM Treasury that the investment in ELM (which must comply with Green Book rules) is not only cost beneficial but also sustainable in the long term.  So, to my mind, sustainable soils are the answer, as they will deliver multiple public goods and objectives of the 25 YEP when, once restored, they will enable us to be resilient for both food and water while combating climate change. Using these principles, we can therefore demonstrate the cost benefit and long-term sustainability to the Treasury for the 3.1 Billion that is set aside for ELM.

The design of ELM must, in my view, focus on funding the transition through from Agri environment support to payments for public goods and ecosystem services to arrive at a vibrant and sustainable countryside on who’s food, water and wellbeing we all depend. It needs to start now. Urgently.

So please, let’s not use the words “agri-environment” or “income forgone” around ELM design.

What struck me when standing in a field of wonderful open and engaged farmers was how can we help them get there sooner. Surely this is the role of ELM. Alan Savoury said we need a holistic plan and we need ‘tools’. Tools include innovative machines and technologies for not disturbing soil and monitoring its condition and recovery. Tools might include for a time sensitive use of Glyphosate. It will be the farmers who will say when they don’t need it as they will value the role of the biodiversity of their soils in productivity when they have achieved it. Essential tools such as livestock that will maximise carbon capture by constantly pulling down carbon into our soils, if managed well, through a mob grazing plan and investment to enable nature to help us manage it without apex predators, such as fencing and water supply.  Payments for letting nature thrive through sensitive and appropriate re-wilding and investment in trees, agroforestry and silvo-pastural systems.  But there is more.  We need funding for local facilities like abattoirs, local processing, adding value, skills training; where is the LEADER equivalent of funding for this kind of development within ELM?  As far as I am aware, this isn’t being discussed.

This is especially important for our hill and pastoral farmers that currently manage land that is delivering (or could deliver more) multiple public goods.  If they are only paid on income forgone from these farming systems, the payments are too small for them to survive through transition and beyond. Some people have been heard to say that if 50% of our farms are inefficient or unproductive then let them go out of business and reset.  Then the land might be used for other purposes such as re- wilding or for more productive farm systems.  But to me this has the potential to be as distasteful as the clearances of old. What would be lost is more than could be ever regained. The culture, the knowledge, the tradition, the guardianship. We are all learning that we must adapt and change to respond to the urgency of climate change, and it is not ethical in my view to make strategies over land that has been the home of people for centuries without their inclusion. If we can design ELM as a layered public goods payment these farmers can deliver, they might receive much more than they are currently receiving for permanent pasture in upland areas. And if we are to add an element of re-wilding into these landscapes then let’s make a plan that fits (like Alan Savoury says) with the people’s culture and economic benefit at its core.  If managed grazing livestock are one of the tools that is needed – it need not be a threat to our traditional farmers lives and livelihoods.  They will need help to adapt, design and benefit from adding value and diversification of their businesses in these protected landscapes; with help and respect from the statutory bodies, agencies and NGOs, they could make a good problem-solving team.

Secondly – at Groundswell I concluded that we folk who live and work on the ground at a farm and community level know what needs to be done. We even have a framework to deliver the 25 Year Environment Plan and the UN Sustainability Goals. Yes, there might be more studies and research to do but we need to get on with urgency to combat climate change now. It is no longer in the ‘what we need to do’ but in the ‘how we do it’; and everyone has an opinion.   What we do know is that it would be made much easier if policy helped us.  History shows that a groundswell of action from the people can be transformative to society, and that individuals in the past and present continue to help make these changes.   

My view is still very much that we need to offer help, advice and shared learning to assist farmers on this route.   ELM design must include advice. The scheme itself may well need to be simple forward facing to the farmer but needs an interface with understanding the multiple public goods the land can deliver.  This is already being demonstrated in our Farmer Guardians of the Upper Thames and Upper Thames Catchment Partnership work – how data can be collected by farmers and communities, contextualised by GIS systems that understand all the local, national and international strategic priorities and a mechanisms for this to be facilitated back to the farmer at a local level.   The accredited adviser (a work stream being developed by Defra) might also be able to help facilitate natural capital recovery from multiple evolving, locally relevant sources.   These might include carbon payments, ecosystem services payments from water companies, net gain from planning and many more to come.  The adviser might also be able to help engage communities to get involved in the environment around them, buy locally produced food, supporting the farmers delivering their public benefits. This would benefit health and wellbeing and could be part of a structured approach where everyone feels contributory in their role.  Please see presentation on how to Defra team June 2019 ‘ How Practitioners can help Government Deliver the 25 Year Environment Plan  and the role of communities and land managers in protecting and enhancing the environment through Integrated local Delivery’ – where we can all play a part in a global systems based approach.   So internationally we could lead the way…

In conclusion – it can all be done – but the warm and lovely collaborative people at Groundswell seem along away from the tensions of the world and the confusion of politics but it reflected the needs of all of us.  The need to earn a living, feel valued and play a part in society, caring about the world around us and how we play our part in its future. At Groundswell it felt like a quiet peaceful, meaningful revolution was underway – and we were all proud to be part of it - now all we need is the politicians and policy makers to enable us to make it happen faster.

You can download the presentation from the DEFRA meeting in early June by clicking here.