Government unveils plans to restore 300,000 hectares of habitat across England

The government has revealed the next stages of its plan to reward farmers and landowners for actions that benefit the environment, support sustainable food production along with the vital recovery of nature and work towards net zero.

Two new ecological land management schemes will play a key role in halting species decline by 2030, bringing up to 60% of England’s agricultural soils into sustainable management by 2030, and restoring up to 300,000 hectares of wildlife habitat by 2042.

The Local Nature Restoration Scheme will pay farmers for locally targeted actions that make room for nature in cultivated landscapes and the countryside such as creating wildlife habitats, planting trees, or restoring peat areas and wetlands. The Landscape Restoration Scheme will support more drastic changes in land use change and habitat restoration such as the creation of new nature reserves, floodplain restoration, or the creation of woodlands and wetlands.

Together with the previously announced Sustainable Agriculture Incentive supporting sustainable farming practices, they are designed to provide farmers and landowners with a wide range of voluntary options from which they can choose the best for their businesses. The reforms are the biggest changes to agriculture and land management in 50 years with more than 3,000 farmers already testing the new schemes.

Speaking at the Oxford Conference on Agriculture today, Environment Secretary George Eustice will announce that applications will soon open for the first wave of landscape restoration projects. Up to 15 projects will be selected in this first wave, focusing on two themes – restoring threatened native species in England and restoring rivers and streams in England.

These pilot projects alone are expected to generate significant environmental benefits including:

  • Create 10,000 hectares of restored wildlife habitat
  • Carbon savings of 25-50 kilotons per year – roughly equivalent to taking 12,000-25,000 cars off the road
  • Improving the condition of nearly half (45-57%) of England’s most endangered species, including the Eurasian curlew, sand lizard and water minnow

Environment Minister George Eustice said:

We want to see profitable agricultural businesses that produce nutritious food, support a growing rural economy, where nature recovers and people have better access to it.

With our new schemes, we will work with farmers and land managers to halt species decline, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase forests, improve water and air quality, and create more space for nature.

We build these schemes together, and are already working with more than 3,000 farmers across the sector to test and pilot our future approach. Farmers will be able to choose the system or combination of schemes that best suit their business, and we will support them to do so.

Agriculture in England is moving away from the arbitrary land-based subsidies and regressive bureaucracy of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, towards schemes that recognize the work that farmers do as stewards of the natural environment. Defra works in partnership with farmers to design new schemes and support the choices they make for their private properties.

Native Nature Restoration is the benevolent and most ambitious successor to England’s rural welfare scheme. It will reward farmers who take action at the local level and work together to address issues such as water pollution by reducing runoff, mitigating flood risk by installing flood tanks, restoring peat areas or wetlands, and adding trees and fences to fields.

An early version of the Local Nature Recovery scheme will be trialled in 2023 with full nationwide implementation starting in 2024.

Tony Juniper, President of the Natural England Society, said:

Collectively, these schemes represent a historic shift in the way we manage our land, setting us on the right track toward sustainable food production while rising to the urgent task of halting and reversing nature’s decline.

More than two-thirds of England is farmed and these reforms pave the way for those who manage the land to produce healthy food along with other vital benefits, such as carbon storage, clean water, reduced flood risks, thriving wildlife and beautiful landscapes for all to enjoy.

At Natural England we look forward to working with the Government to breathe life into the Nature Restoration Network in England, including through the very exciting ambition of creating large-scale landscape restoration areas.

By 2028, government spending is expected to be evenly divided across investment at the farm-level, locally designed, and landscape-scale. All schemes will be designed to pay for public goods that exceed regulatory baselines and schemes will not pay for the same actions twice.

All environmental schemes will be voluntary and farmers will have to decide the appropriate set of actions for them. Defra designs them to be accessible, supportive, and fairly compensated to stimulate high levels of absorption. The scheme will be modified and expanded as the pilots continue. The objectives of the schemes will also be kept under review as long-term, legally binding objectives under environmental law are developed.

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