Environmental Land Management test and trials in Devon

The UKs new agricultural policy is expected to be underpinned by payment of public money for the provision of public goods. As the UK moves away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, it has been proposed that farmers in England will see Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) funding and Countryside Stewardship phased out and new agri-environment funding rolled in. The Environmental Land Management (ELM) system has been proposed as a key element of this.

Most payments made to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy are based on the amount of land they farm. Under ELM, farmers would be encouraged to produce environmental land management plans and will be paid for the environmental outcomes they deliver. The Government’s vision for ELM is that it will incentivise land managers to deliver the goals of the 25 year environment plan:

  • Clean and plentiful water
  • Clean air
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
  • Reduction in and protection from environmental hazards
  • Adaptation to and mitigation of climate change
  • Beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment

The proposed new Environmental Land Management (ELM) system began its test and trial period in 2019, with pilots planned to run to 2021. There are 10 phase one ELM tests and trials taking place in Devon (see details below). These phase one tests and trials will run for approximately 18 months so results are expected in June 2021, although many trials have been impacted by coronavirus and results may be delayed. We will aim to upload and share results on this webpage when they are available.

The Devon LNP hosted a joint meeting for all the ELM test and trials taking place in Devon, which was held as an online workshop in March 2020 and attended by representatives from all ten trials as well as representatives from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Key outcomes were:

  • An agreed intention to meet again towards the end of the trial period to share learning and practice
  • To produce a summary paper for Defra on the key Devon-wide issues and learning points.

View a copy of the presentations from the workshop.

Devon Test and Trials


Dartmoor Test and Trial, Dartmoor National Park

Contact: Harriet Bell
The Dartmoor test and trial will explore four, interlinked objectives:
Phase 1: Explore the role that National Park Authorities can play in shaping, facilitating and delivering ELM.
Phase 2: Develop a blueprint for Land Management Plans with a specific focus on commons and the link to the home farms and explore what advisor/guidance is required to support the development, implementation and monitoring of land management plans (at a farm, common and wider landscape-scale).
Phase 3: Develop and trial a ‘Payments by Results’ approach that is capable of delivering a range of public benefit objectives and could be operated on a common as well as the home farm, across farm boundaries and at a landscape scale.
Phase 4: Explore how private finance initiatives and other forms of environmental net gain could be incorporated into ELM at a local level

Exmoor’s Ambition, Exmoor National Park

Contact: Alex Farris
Exmoor’s Ambition involves working closely with Exmoor’s Hill Farming Network across three main work streams;
1. Quantifying Natural Capital as the basis of Land Management Plans by using existing environmental data to generate 25 holding scale natural capital registers and truth-testing these registers with farmers and woodland managers.
2. Defining ELM objectives at a landscape scale, working with strategic partners to spatially map both local and 25-year plan opportunities.
3. Setting payment levels and modelling scheme impacts by working with development farmers to assess what they would realistically choose to deliver and at what realistic price. Then assessing the impact of the scheme on natural capital and the landscape as a whole.

Farming for the Nation, East Devon AONB

The East Devon AONB Partnership trial will run from December 2019 to March 2021 and is part of a collaborative proposal coordinated through the National Association for AONBs (NAAONB) entitled ‘Farming for the Nation’ which is testing a range of approaches across 12 AONBs in England.
The East Devon proposal is focussed on the Umborne Valley and aims to work with farmers and landowners with small (currently not qualifying on scale) High Nature Value habitat to develop joint/collaborative ELM schemes as part of a wider nature recovery network.

Farming for the Nation, Blackdown Hills AONB

Contact: Tim Youngs
The Blackdown Hills AONB trial is part of a collaborative proposal coordinated through the National Association for AONBs (NAAONB); ‘Farming for the Nation’. Using peer-to-peer collaboration, through Farmer Ambassadors, to explore how improved connectivity between close or adjoining holdings, allowing collective identification of public goods and agreement on appropriate approaches to their management can improve ELM take-up in high nature value landscapes.

North Devon Biosphere (Pioneer), North Devon Landscape group

Contact: Moira Manners or Clare Fitzgibbon
The goal of the North Devon Pioneer ELM Trial is to identify a mechanism to change the relationship between farmers, Government and society by motivating behaviour change. It will trial the use of the natural capital approach at both landscape and farm holding levels, hence delivering public goods in return for public money, in line with the 25 Year Environment Plan.
This ELM trial provides an opportunity to operationalise the natural capital approach to land management, focussed in four landscape areas (link to map here). Natural Capital priorities for each landscape area will be agreed by a wide range of stakeholders, building on work already done by the North Devon Pioneer project. Farmers and land managers will be consulted about how those priorities might be delivered in their local area. Up to 28 farmers and land managers will then be invited to take part in the main part of the trial which will provide them with current farm business situation reports, an assessment of the natural capital baseline and opportunities on farm from which 3 scenarios will be costed and the farmer will identify their preference to generate a standard, medium or high natural capital offer, based on existing CS payment rates, or ELM payment rates if they become available in time. The trial started in January 2020 and will finish in May 2021.
Further information on farmer engagement.

Farming for the Nation, Tamar Valley AONB

Contact: Tim Dart
This test and trial project is also part of the collaborative proposal coordinated through the National Association for AONBs (NAAONB); ‘Farming for the Nation’. The trial is focused on Soil Organic Carbon (SOC). Soil Carbon is a good indicator of soil health, biological activity within the soil, and reflects biodiversity above ground. From an agricultural and business perspective, healthy soils with increasing soil organic matter levels can also be related to consistent sustainable agricultural productivity. The test and trial is therefore looking to road test new to market soil scanners to understand if they are able to produce replicable and consistent results against a baseline of traditional methods of soil assessment. In addition, the project will identify if this is able to measure and assess the Natural Capital position of the soil and the capacity of the soil to deliver ecosystem service benefits. If the technology is reliable, accurate and consistent in measuring the level and amount of soil carbon, it could open up new revenue payment mechanisms for farmers. This project is being delivered in partnership with Duchy College, the Farm Wildlife Advisory Group and the National Association of AONBs.

Clinton Devon Estates

Contacts: Sam Bridgewater and Iowerth Watkins
Catchment-scale spatial planning attempting to enhance ecosystem services across multiple land management boundaries.
Key features of the trial include:
1. Stakeholder led
2. Ensuring catchment plans support agricultural productivity and innovation
2. Reducing environmental risk
3. Maximising wildlife, habitat support and other ‘ecosystem services’
4. Identifying opportunities for delivering further public benefit
5. Increasing local societal support for agriculture and farmers
6. Adequately rewarding farmers for the many public benefits they provide

Developing a ‘local offer’ to support nature rich mixed farming in South Devon, RSPB

Contact: Ian Wilkinson
This project aims to work with farmers and land managers in South Devon to explore and propose mechanisms to maintain species recovery through an Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, using the example of the cirl bunting. Understanding the barriers and possible support mechanisms needed to maintain farmers’ engagement in the land management practices required by this species will help identify general principles that can be applied elsewhere. As part of this work, the project will also explore the feasibility and desirability of using a formal cooperative model to facilitate landscape-scale delivery of species recovery. Local farmers and land managers will work together in workshops to produce proposals for a locally relevant ELM offer, which will be tested with a wider community of farmers via surveys, interviews and workshops. For over 30 years, local farmers have engaged with agri-environment schemes and nature friendly farming practices to deliver a 9-fold increase in the cirl bunting population. However, suitable financial incentives, advice and support will be needed in future to secure the traditional low input mixed farming system, and with it, key practices such as low input spring cropping. If not, many farmers will have little choice but to change agricultural practices or exit farming altogether, risking the recovery of cirl buntings.

Findings report

This report was commissioned by the Devon Local Nature Partnership to summarise the findings of the Devon test and trials and provide farmer (and facilitator) feedback on the process.

The reported findings are summarised under the 6 E.L.M Test and Trial research headings:

  1. Land Management Plan – what would be included in a plan, how long it should be and what information is needed to support the land manager or farmer.
  2. Role of Advice and Guidance – the level and role of advice and guidance that land managers and farmers would need to put together a plan.
  3. Spatial prioritisation – to test mechanisms to identify and agree local priorities.
  4. Collaboration – to test how different mechanisms of collaboration would work to deliver environmental outcomes.
  5. Payments – to test different approaches to valuing environmental outcomes and how these might work in practice.
  6. Innovative delivery mechanisms – how these could be rolled out more widely and in what circumstances. For example, trialling payment by results and reverse auctions.

Findings from farmers demonstrate a consensus of opinion in many areas, to inform what ‘shape’ of E.L.M scheme will work best in Devon, to deliver the public goods and services desired and fit into (transitioning) farm businesses.

The Devon LNP will be using the findings of this report to feed not only into E.L.M development but also into other related initiatives which will help achieve a Nature Recovery Network across Devon. These include the Devon Local Nature Recovery Strategy, Devon Carbon Plan, Net Gain and other Natural Capital Investment work. It is critical that all these initiatives work together to support both Devon’s natural environment and our farming communities.