Updates from Defra: SFI Cap Announced, Dartmoor Review Published and Water Restoration Fund Opens

Each month, the team at Defra send us their updates, and we'll share the top picks which we believe are important and helpful for you, our community of Land App users, here on the blog.

Please note, the following updates come directly from Defra, and are not written by Land App.

This month, Defra have made the following announcements:

Dartmoor Review government response published  

On Wednesday, 10 April, the government published it’s response to the Independent Review of Protected Site Management on Dartmoor.  

The government’s response sets out a number of priorities to ensure farmers on Dartmoor are supported to produce food sustainably and run viable businesses while protecting important habitat and species across Dartmoor.  

These include boosting farmers’ confidence in environmental land management schemes, including those transitioning from Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements; encouraging collaborative relationships between Natural England and commoners; and backing a robust strategy and long-term governance for Dartmoor.   

A key recommendation in the Review is the creation of a Land Use Management Group (LUMG) to develop a multifunctional land use framework and long-term plan for Dartmoor.   

Defra has confirmed the LUMG will be set up later this year and run for two years. Defra will appoint an Independent Chair who will be supported by a secretariat provided by the Dartmoor National Park Authority (and funded by Defra) in the day-to-day running of the group. Defra has also set out its ambition to make it easier for land managers to understand site designations and associated requirements, such as for those farming on Site of Special Scientific Interests and to make monitoring and evaluation of these sites more transparent.  

Natural England is working hard to find ways to ensure that the landscape can provide for wildlife, climate and people, so that both nature and farming can thrive. 

Marian Spain, Chief Executive for Natural England, said: 

“Natural England has a statutory duty to protect sites containing the nation’s most precious examples of wildlife and biodiversity like those seen across Dartmoor’s unique landscape, and farming will remain integral to how we achieve this.    

“Since the review’s publication, Natural England has taken steps to rebuild trust with farmers and discuss how we can support them to run viable farm businesses that also work for Nature, and we welcome the creation of a Land Use Management Group to bring all stakeholders together to pursue a shared vision for Dartmoor.” 

For further information on the response please read Defra and Natural England’s blog posts.  

Credit: Stuart Allen

Water Restoration Fund: grants now available  

Groups of farmers can now apply for a grant to improve freshwater habitats through the new Water Restoration Fund.  The fund, which was initially announced in Defra’s Plan for Water in 2023, is financed by environmental fines and penalties issued to water companies between April 2022 and October 2023.  

In total, £11 million will be allocated to projects by region to ensure that money goes to the areas where environmental damage has occurred.  

Funding will bolster capacity and capabilities for delivery of on-the-ground projects. These projects will restore and protect habitats using nature-based solutions and improve community access to blue and green spaces, including re-meandering rivers, restoring water-dependent habitats, and removing barriers to enable the natural movement of fish in rivers.  

Credit: William Hook

Storm Henk: grants available for affected farmers  

Eligible farmers in England who suffered damage to their land during Storm Henk that was uninsurable, will now be contacted by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) about a grant to help cover the costs of returning the land to the condition it was in before it flooded.  

The Farming Recovery Fund supports the cost of reinstating agricultural land which flooded between 2 and 12 January 2024. The fund forms part of a broader scheme called the Flood Recovery Framework which is activated in exceptional circumstances to support councils and communities following severe flooding.  

The fund will initially be open in those local authority areas where the Flood Recovery Framework has already been activated to help farms which have experienced the highest levels of flooding.These are Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, West Northamptonshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire.  

Eligibility for the fund will remain under review by Defra to ensure it is supporting areas where farmland is most impacted. The further counties under review are Berkshire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Norfolk and Derbyshire.  

Read more about the support, including details of eligibility. 

Credit: Mike Finn

Delinked payments transfer deadline 

The delinked payments transfer window is now open. You can transfer some or all of your reference amount to another business until 10 May 2024 (11.59pm) – you’ll need full business permissions to either view or transfer reference data. (The 10 May 2024 deadline will not apply in inheritance cases.) 

We’ve updated the Delinked payments: replacing the Basic Payment Scheme guidance to include more information about transferring data, closed businesses, and inheritance. You can also find out more in our blog: Delinked payments guidance: information about transferring reference data

Time is running out to request a transfer of some (or all) of your delinked payments reference amount to another business (apart from inheritance cases). The option to transfer closes 10 May 2024 – don’t miss your opportunity. 

River Wye action plan published  

On 12 April, Defra published the River Wye Action Plan, which was a commitment made by the former Secretary of State at a roundtable held last May. The plan sets out a range of government measures to improve the water quality in the River Wye, including:  

  • appointing a River Champion to establish a River Wye Taskforce which will develop and implement a 5-10 year catchment plan 
  • provide up to £35 million for poultry manure combustors in the River Wye Special Area of Conservation (SAC) catchment  
  • improving control of manure exports from permitted poultry farms, by reforming Environmental Permitting Regulations 
  • providing £1.5 million of development funding to local Landscape Recovery projects over the next two years, with the aim of involving 50 farmers and land managers, helping to secure soil in place and buffer the river from surrounding farmland 
  • provide funding for at least a further two projects that will help create habitat, facilitate fish migration and mitigate flood risk, as well as help farmers to adopt regenerative food production methods that reduce nutrient pollution and soil erosion, and naturally improve water infiltration and retention 

Placing area-limits on 6 SFI actions   

New measures came into force on 26 March to limit the amount of land farmers can enter into 6 SFI actions in order to safeguard domestic food production. Under the changes, new SFI applicants will only be able to put a total of up to 25% of the total agricultural area of their farm into one of more of these ‘limited area’ SFI actions:    

  • IPM2: Flower-rich grass margins, blocks, or in-field strips    
  • AHL1: Pollen and nectar flower mix (which should be growing in blocks or strips in a land parcel)    
  • AHL2: Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land (which should be growing in blocks or strips in a land parcel)    
  • AHL3: Grassy field corners or blocks    
  • IGL1: Take improved grassland field corners or blocks out of management    
  • IGL2: Winter bird food on improved grassland (which should be growing in blocks or strips in a land parcel)    

These actions involve taking land out of food production for a short time and were designed to be used on relatively small areas of land. But we have seen a very small number of agreement holders putting 80%+ of their land into these actions, reducing the environmental benefits and taking land out of agricultural production unnecessarily.    

From 26 March 2024, any SFI application submitted that exceeds the 25% area limit on 6 SFI actions won’t be offered an agreement.    

The changes will not apply to those farmers with existing SFI agreements and will realign these actions with their original intentions and ensure the scheme continues to support farmers to produce food sustainably alongside protecting the environment. 

Credit: Andrew


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