Looking ahead to future support schemes

While ministers in all four UK nations have promised future funding for UK farmers, the details are largely unknown. It is likely the main focus will be on environmental outcomes and delivery of wider public goods, which will arguably make it easier for sheep farmers to qualify than some other sectors. Looking ahead will require keeping abreast of political developments, for example through NSA communications to its members, and knowing your business well enough to understand if the additional income is enough to justify the effort (time, cost, business impact) of meeting scheme requirements.

Andrew Keilty, Yorkshire Dales, England

Myself and my partner Hannah are involved in a ‘payment by results trial’ on our farm in Wensleydale, where we run 500 purebred Swaledale ewes. The trial is run by Defra to assess the viability of an environmental scheme that focuses on the outcome of our work to support nature, rather than what management actions are needed to achieve it.

We were keen to be involved, as it gives us flexibility to manage our land, adapting management needs according to our situation, the season and how ambitious we want to be. It is very different to Countryside Stewardship where farmers had to follow a fixed set of rules in exchange for a flat payment rate.

Each field in the trial is scored each year and a higher score leads to a higher payment rate. So while the best sites for wildlife get the highest payment, there is also an incentive for us to work with other sites as they can still attract funding if we achieve a good score. We have been participating for three years, with advice and training from Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

Of course I would prefer that the farm and stock paid their own way, but the reality is that agri-environment payments are essential to the survival of hill farmers and play a vital role in keeping important native breeds, such as the Swaledale, on the hills. It is also a way of securing more income without one or both of us having to go off the farm.

The onus is on us to do the right thing to benefit the species that the scheme is designed around. Our sheep are recognised as important environmental tools to produce the right habitat for lapwing and redshank, which need close grazed turf during the breeding season. We are also monitoring and managing rush levels, as if there is too much rush in a field the birds will not breed there.

The scheme takes into account local knowledge and is far better than its predecessors. It is more flexible, as you can tweak the management to suit your farming system. But if you do something damaging that impacts the habitat, the score you receive will be reduced so you will receive less income from the scheme. If you do the right thing you will secure a higher score and be paid more. Everyone involved understands that and we have enjoying learning as we go. Hannah and I have certainly gained a great deal of satisfaction from our involvement and, like the other farmers involved, have become quite competitive in trying to move up the payment scale!

My understanding is that the first three years of the pilot have been positive and the approach is being considered as a real contender for boosting the effectiveness of future environmental schemes. I certainly hope that is the case.

Background info: Defra is running a programme of trials to explore how different aspects of the future Environmental Land Management scheme might work once it is rolled out in England from 2024. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are responsible for developing their own policies and alternatives.

More information

Enjoy in the comfort of your own home or listen-on-the-go as Dr Louise Moon of the Black Mountains Land Use Partnership (BMLUP) looks at balancing production with environmental projects. BMLUP brings together farmers and land users in South East Wales to work together on grazing, access, wildlife, ecology, field sports, forestry and water management.


Andrew Keilty.
Andrew Keilty.
Dr Louise Moon.
Dr Louise Moon.