The government is “rapidly reviewing” its plans for a subsidy scheme that rewards environmental action from farmers, a spokesperson has revealed.
The Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) was introduced following Brexit, as a UK alternative to EU agricultural law.
Around £3.5 billion was spent annually on grants for environmental action, however, the amount varied depending on land-owned by farmers – which has led to some claims that the scheme is in favour of those that are already wealthier.
There has been a backlash to the government’s decision to review the ELMS, with environmental groups seeing the review as another step back in cleaning up the industry.
Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust, said: “Rather than ramp up action to support our environment, this government appears however to be heading in the opposite direction.”
Under the current ELMS, subsidies are paid to farmers that improve water and oil health, rewild landscapes and protect biodiversity; creating wildlife and habitats.
Its higher payments to bigger farms has led smaller agricultural businesses to worry – with the NFU farming union calling on a delay for the scheme’s introduction.
President Minette Batters said, “it needs to be profitable,” “we have always been calling for a better policy, one that does deliver for food production and for the environment.”
She added: “We have got literally billions and billions of pounds in green finance that is looking to invest in wild environments. We should be making the private sector work effectively.”
In support of the views of the NFU, Craig Bennett, Chief Executive at the Wildlife Trusts, said: “If we revert to an agricultural system where people get given taxpayers’ money on the basis of how much land they own then one of the few potential benefits of Brexit will have been squandered. It will be unfair and unsustainable.”
However, a farmer from Cambridgeshire, Martin Lines heads up the Nature Friendly Farming Network – looking to promote sustainable, said: “If the government is stalling the ELMS, it is failing any duty of leadership in maintaining momentum and building resilience.”
A Defra spokesperson stated: “In the light of the current global economic situation, we know that the cost of inputs has gone up, which might make it more difficult for farmers to both improve the natural environment and underpin food production, so we will continue our engagement with the sector to make sure the outcomes that the British people want to see are delivered.”