'Payment by Results' scheme reaps rich rewards for wildlife
Archant Norfolk © 2016
The first major assessment of a "Payment by Results" pilot scheme in Suffolk and Norfolk has shown that farmers are more motivated to develop nature-friendly practices and are delivering "exceptional results" for wildlife.
The scheme has been running since 2016 in an area stretching from Swaffham to Halesworth, and from Norwich to Stowmarket - one of only two national trials, with the other in Yorkshire.
Unlike the prescriptive approach of the current national agri-environment schemes - which pay a flat rate for actions taken rather than results achieved - the 34 farmers taking part in the Payment by Results pilot have had the freedom to choose how they manage their land to enhance the environment.
A new report says these farmers have recorded 43pc increased score for the number and diversity of seed bearing plants than nearby sites under conventional funding schemes - providing a rich food source for farmland birds during the winter months.
The trial areas for species-rich meadows also recorded a greater number of important plant species, such as pignut and eyebright, benefiting bumblebees, butterflies and birds.
Participating farmers have also reported they felt more motivated to manage their land in a way that enhances the environment.
The report, published by project partners Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, concludes the result-based approach has "considerable potential" for the design of the future Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which is due to replace land-based basic payment subsidies after Brexit.
Environment secretary Theresa Villiers said: "I am greatly encouraged by how well the results-based approach has worked under this pilot. It sends a clear message we should be giving farmers and land managers greater flexibility and autonomy to deliver the best results for the environment that go hand in hand with their farming business.
"As we leave the EU we have a fantastic opportunity to create an ambitious new system that rewards farmers for public goods we all value."
Natural England chairman Tony Juniper added: "The 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.
"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."