UK farm subsidy reform aims to return land to nature

Plans to restore land almost twice the size of London over the next two decades will be launched by ministers on Thursday as they overhaul UK farm subsidies after Brexit.

Applications will be open for the first 15 “landscape restoration” projects – the most ambitious stage in the government’s plan to pay farmers and landowners for environmental work – as part of the changes. The change was announced by Environment Secretary George Eustice.

These initial projects will aim to restore 10,000 hectares of wildlife habitat and save carbon emissions equivalent to 25,000 cars, while improving the habitats of about half of all threatened species. in the UK, including water langurs, sand lizards and Eurasian iguanas.

Landscape restoration plans will pay farmers for “fundamental” changes to land use and habitats, such as establishing nature reserves, restoring floodplains, and creating large-scale wetlands or forests.

The new subsidy programs will aim to restore 300,000 hectares of wildlife habitat by 2042, an area almost twice the size of the capital. They will also include incentives for sustainable farming, which will pay landowners for measures such as cutting fertilizer use, and a more ambitious “local nature restoration” plan, which targets projects such as restoring restore peatland.

“We want to see profitable agribusinesses producing nutritious food that underpins a growing rural economy where nature is recovering and people have better access to it. ,” said Eustice.

But farmer groups say the policy still lacks the detail needed to help farmers plan ahead, as they face a gradual cut in EU-style subsidies paid by area of ​​land by 2028 and the reduction of existing environmental programs.

Tom Bradshaw, Vice President of the National Farmers Union, said more information is needed to enable farmers to make “important long-term decisions.” [were] necessary for them to run viable and profitable businesses”.

Julia Aglionby, president of the Uplands Alliance, said farmers and landowners “remain in the dark about how to ‘care about the yawning gap’ between [EU-style subsidies] remove and [the new scheme’s] Introduce.”

She described the restoration target as “very lacking in ambition”, pointing out that 300,000 hectares to be restored to wildlife are less than 3% of the UK land area, and expressed concern about the lack of any commitment. financial resources outside this parliament.

The policy also lacks payments for work on improving cultural heritage or access to education, she added, despite previous commitments that these would be included.

The UK’s three biggest nature charities – Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and RSPB – say Brexit offers a “golden opportunity” to manage land for nature but it is “in jeopardy” because lack of detail.

Farmers, especially herders, have for decades been heavily dependent on EU subsidies, which amount to more than £1.6 billion a year in the UK. Ministers have pledged to maintain the overall level of subsidies as they move payments to the new systems.

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