Plans to restore land to nature nearly double the size of London over the next two decades will be presented by ministers on Thursday as they review England’s farm subsidies after Brexit.
Applications will be open for the first 15 ‘landscape reclamation’ projects – the most ambitious installment of government plans to pay farmers and landowners for environmental works – under the changes announced by George Eustice, the Secretary of the Environment.
These early projects will aim to restore 10,000 hectares of wildlife habitat and save carbon emissions equivalent to 25,000 cars, while improving the habitat of around half of England’s most endangered species, including the water vole, sand lizard and Eurasian curlew.
The landscape restoration program will pay farmers for ‘radical’ changes in land and habitat use, such as the creation of nature reserves, the restoration of floodplains and the creation of large-scale forests or wetlands. .
The new grant programs will aim to restore 300,000 hectares of wildlife habitat by 2042, an area almost twice the size of the capital. They will also include a sustainable agriculture incentive, which will pay landowners for measures such as reducing fertilizer use, and the more ambitious ‘local nature recovery’ program, targeting projects such as restoration of peatlands.
“We want to see profitable farm businesses producing nutritious food, supporting a growing rural economy, where nature recovers and people have better access to it,” said Eustice.
But farmer groups said the policy still lacks the details needed to allow farmers to plan ahead, as they face a gradual decline in EU-style subsidies paid based on acreage by 2028. and the winding-up of existing environmental programs.
Tom Bradshaw, vice president of the National Farmers’ Union, said more information was needed to enable farmers to make “critical long-term decisions that [were] essential for the management of viable and profitable businesses ”.
Julia Aglionby, president of the Uplands Alliance, said farmers and landowners “remain in the dark on how to ‘watch out for the yawning gap’ between [EU-style subsidies] gradually eliminate and [the new scheme’s] introduction.”
She called the restoration target “very unambitious”, noting that 300,000 hectares restored for wildlife made up less than 3% of England’s landmass, and expressed concern about the lack of commitments financial beyond this parliament.
The policy also lacked payments for works to improve cultural heritage or access to education, she added, despite previous commitments that these would be included.
Britain’s three largest nature charities – Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and RSPB – said Brexit offered a “golden opportunity” to manage land for nature, but it was “in danger” due to the lack of detail.
Farmers, especially those raising livestock, have for decades relied heavily on EU subsidies, which amount to more than £ 1.6 billion a year in England. Ministers pledged to maintain overall subsidy levels as they shift payments to the new systems.