A ‘payment by results’ pilot scheme rewarding UK farmers for environmentally friendly practices has shown positive results.
The programme, which was rolled out in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire and Norfolk and Suffolk in the East of England in early 2016, enables farmers to make their own decisions about the ways in which they maximise sustainable land use to preserve the natural environment; and pays them based on the results, in contrast to natural agri-environment schemes, which typically offer a flat rate. The first major assessment of the payment by results pilot, which was conducted by project partners Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, showed an increase of 43% in the quantity and diversity of seed-bearing plants in comparison to nearby farms receiving funding through conventional schemes.
Natural England Chair Tony Juniper said: “Today’s report shows that if we support our farmers with the right kind of training and guidance then we can achieve really positive results for wildlife. Farmers must be front and centre in efforts to restore the natural environment and these results reveal huge potential for the future. Meeting farmers in Wensleydale today I have been struck by the resourcefulness and passion this pilot has inspired to deliver for nature on working farms. The results-based approach has seen clear objectives being met and exceeded by farmers who have worked in the way that works best for their whole farm.”
Farmers participating in the payment by results pilot, which also offered training and advice to participants, reported they felt more motivated to manage their land in ways which benefited the natural environment. The increased frequency and range of plants obtained through the pilot provides improved food sources for birds during the winter months, as well as attracting pollinators such as butterflies and bees.
Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Deputy Chair and farmer Neil Heseltine said: “This report shows that a ‘payment by results’ approach can produce fantastic environmental benefits as well as strengthening trust between farmers and government agencies. The project has demonstrated just how important it is to have trusted local advisers who can provide the training and support to empower and incentivise the farmers, enabling them to farm in a way that’s a success for their business and for nature. We’re absolutely delighted that Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] is now directly funding an extension of the original EU-funded pilots for a further two and a half years. That will give time to refine the approach and to use the expertise of farmers in the Yorkshire Dales to help to shape future environmental policy.”