Thursday, 26 September 2019

Creating a Brighter Future

Simon Thorp reports on the Creating a Brighter Future (CABF) project that he helped to deliver for the Uplands Alliance, with Nigel Stone, the former Chief Executive of the Exmoor National Park Authority.

Creating a Brighter Future, Lake District

With the support from the Prince's Countryside Fund, the CABF project brought together over 100 hill farmers, with Defra staff, to explore how farmers can create a brighter future for their businesses and the environment.  Farmers were keen to stress how many public benefits they already provide and that, with appropriate support, they can provide more.  They also reminded Defra that these public benefits are delivered alongside producing high quality food and being the glue of rural communities.

Leaving the EU will result in the biggest change for seventy years in how farmers are supported. No longer will farmers be paid to farm but instead they will be paid to provide public benefits which are not paid for “at the till”.  These benefits include biodiversity, carbon storage, clean water and heritage landscapes.  This new scheme is called the Environmental Land Management (ELM) Scheme.

An initial meeting took place with members of Defra’s ELM team in London.  We had selected active farmers to represent the nine upland areas of England.  We wanted to provide Defra with practical views, ‘straight from the tractor’, to provide a contrast with the views from the farming organisations.  This meeting went well and the ‘down to earth’ views were welcomed by Defra.  It was decided that the London meeting should be followed by meetings in the English upland regions, which would be organised by the hill farmer who had been to the London meeting.  Nine regional meetings were held and each was attended by someone from Defra’s ELM team.  This provided an invaluable opportunity for farmers to speak directly to those who are developing ELM and for Defra to gather views from active farmers.

Notes from all the meetings are available on the Uplands Alliance website.  These notes were then collated into a report for Defra that is also available.  The key findings include:
  • Long term schemes (~25 years) would allow business planning and delivery of environmental benefits;
  • Payment rates need to be sufficient to ensure business viability and should pay for delivery of existing good practice, as well as improvements;
  • There should be a flexible approach to delivery, focusing on outcomes not prescriptions;
  • Funding applications that can be filled in by the farmer will result in a higher commitment to delivering outcomes;
  • Local advisors are needed to support application and delivery; and
  • Monitoring and verification of outcomes should be built into the scheme.
I think this was a very successful project, but it could, and perhaps should, be the start of a longer-term working relationship between Defra and hill farmers.  Although a separate job, Defra has already asked to use the contacts, established through the CABF project, to road test their early ideas for the design of the information that will be used to deliver the ELM scheme.  This bodes well for the development of the longer-term relationship.

This sort of liaison work is core to the activity of the Uplands Alliance and The Heather Trust.  I hope that the value of this balanced, independent approach can be recognised so that more similar work will be supported with public and private funds.


  1. Anne Gray, Director of The Heather Trust, is a member of the Uplands Alliance Steering Group
  2. The Uplands Alliance is a network of farmers, conservationists, policy makers and researchers all with a shared interest in creating a thriving uplands.  It has some secretariat support from Defra and is hosted by the University of Cumbria.
  3. For further information please contact The Heather Trust, or Simon Thorp