Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

Plans to restore land to nature almost twice the area of ​​London over the next two decades will be set out by ministers on Thursday as they review England’s agricultural subsidies after Brexit.

Applications will open for the first 15 “landscape restoration” projects – the most ambitious part of the government’s plans to pay farmers and landowners for environmental work – as part of the changes announced by George Eustice, the environmental secretary.

These initial projects will aim to restore 10,000 hectares of wildlife habitat and save carbon emissions equivalent to those of 25,000 cars, while improving the habitat of about half of England’s most endangered species, including the watery, sand lizard and Eurasian curl .

The landscape reclamation scheme will pay farmers for “radical” changes to land use and habitats, such as the establishment of nature reserves, the restoration of floodplains and the creation of large-scale forest fields or wetlands.

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. It will also include a sustainable farming incentive, which will pay landowners for measures such as reducing fertilizer use, and the more ambitious “local nature restoration” scheme, aimed at projects such as peat land restoration.

“We want to see profitable farming enterprises produce nutritious food, which supports a growing rural economy, where nature is recovering and people have better access to it,” Eustice said.

But farmers’ groups have said the policy still does not have the details needed to enable farmers to plan ahead, as they face a gradual decline in EU-style subsidies paid by land area by 2028 and the abolition of existing environmental schemes.

Tom Bradshaw, vice president of the National Farmers’ Union, said more information was needed to enable farmers to “make crucial long-term decisions that [were] essential for them to run viable and profitable businesses ”.

Julia Aglionby, chairwoman of the Uplands Alliance, said farmers and landowners “remain in the dark about how to ‘care about the gaping gap’ between [EU-style subsidies] phase out and [the new scheme’s] introduction.”

She described the recovery target as “very unambitious”, pointing out that 300,000 hectares recovered for wildlife were less than 3 per cent of England’s land mass, and expressed concern about the lack of any financial commitments outside this parliament.

The policy also has a lack of payments for work to improve cultural heritage or educational access, she added, despite earlier promises that it would be included.

The UK’s three largest nature charities – the Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and RSPB – have said Brexit offers a “golden opportunity” to manage land for nature, but that it is “at risk” due to lack of detail.

Farmers, especially those who raise livestock, have been relying heavily on EU subsidies for decades, amounting to more than £ 1.6 billion a year in England. Ministers have pledged to maintain overall subsidy levels as they shift payments to the new systems.

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