Key Lessons: The New Environmental Improvement Plan
The government has just set out its new legally binding environmental targets. But what are they, and what do they mean for the UK land sector?
This week, Defra announced their updated Environmental Improvement Plan, setting out new environmental legal requirements and expectations in line with the 2021 Environment Act, 25-year environment plan and the biodiversity framework signed in December at COP15. It seeks to set in motion the government’s ambitions to “improve the environment within a generation and leave it in a better state than we found it”. The plans are ambitious, wide-ranging and represent a large-scale attempt at reversing some of the key environmental issues of the present day, especially biodiversity loss.
Some of the headline commitments include:
- A target for 65-80% of landowners and farmers to adopt nature-friendly farming practices on 10-15% of their land by 2030
- To restore at least 500,000 hectares of wildlife habitat
- 400 miles of river through the initial round of Landscape recovery projects
- To create 25 new or expanded nature reserves
- To create 3000 hectares of new woodland
- A new species survival fund
- To create 30,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2037 increasing to 45,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2050.
So, what does this mean for the UK Land Sector?
Many of these commitments fall heavily on the land management and farming sector across the country. So what do these promises mean for farmers? Some of the pledges make it clear that defra are hoping for a high uptake in their new ELM schemes, from SFI up to Landscape Recovery. As one pledge outlines (“Reducing ammonia emissions through incentives in our new farming schemes, while considering expanding environmental permitting conditions to dairy and intensive beef farms”) these changes are to be funded through the ELM payment options released this week. It represents a shift in emphasis toward green finance supporting environmental recovery, laying the path toward a more developed green economy.
Given this shift in emphasis, it is imperative that farmers and land managers are empowered with the tools to access funding and assess their opportunities with greater clarity than ever before. Indeed, Mark Tufnell, the president of the Country Land and Business Association, was quoted as saying we “need guarantees as to the long term budget” and “we need confidence that government will provide clear, timely guidance as to what it wants and how it is to be delivered.” As a result, having a detailed understanding of a land holding will be critical to respond to these new funding sources. Having a digital baseline of the land allows the current state of nature to be assessed, and environmental funding opportunities identified in a collaborative, low cost and precise way.
Land App’s founder, Tim Hopkin, said “We welcome these environmental improvements laid out by the government this week. If carried out, they have the potential to make significant environmental progress. To be successful however, insight into the landscape and land use change will be essential. Putting the right interventions in the right place will not only be key ecologically, but it is essential in maximising potential for private investment. We’re continuing to work to ensure all landowners and farmers can have a “digital twin” of their land, and thus easily plan to maximise how best to stay financially resilient whilst achieving these collective environmental goals in line with Defra’s objectives for the green finance market”.
A Piecemeal Approach?
One of the key pledges revolves around the support of government schemes to ensure 65 to 80% of landowners and farmers will adopt nature friendly farming practices on at least 10 to 15% of their land by 2030. Recovery at the landscape scale is filled with complexity, and given the structure of the payments (paying for additionality), it is essential that these efforts are joined up. There is a very real risk of a piecemeal approach, whereby uplift is not coordinated, and its ecological benefits risk not being fully realised. The Landscape Recovery tier of ELMS goes some way in acknowledging, but land managers and farmers must be provided with the tools to ensure this is an equitable, streamlined and relatively simple process.
The team at Land App are committed to ensuring that we provide the tools to ensure this becomes a reality. Working with the land sector, for the land sector, we will continue to analyse and respond to the challenges presented by one of the most turbulent times for agriculture and land management in a generation.