Testing times: Farming Minister Victoria Prentis meets Barningham Farmers Group representatives Rob Lowes, Adam Metcalfe, Sir Edward and Lady Milbank and GSC Gray’s Director Lucinda Riddell.
FARMERS from Barningham are to be at the forefront of helping to develop the Government’s new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) after being selected for a Defra trial.
ELMS is due to come into force in 2024 and will replace the existing Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Countryside Stewardship in 2028. The announcement that Barningham Farmers Group is one of 55 projects to work out how the new scheme should work, was followed by a visit to Barningham Estate by Farming Minister Victoria Prentis last month.
The original proposals were put forward by estate owner Sir Edward Milbank and land and property consultants GSC Grays. Holly Story, senior environmental consultant at GSC Grays, said the group came together last year to discuss looming reductions in the BPS as well as challenges lying ahead for farm businesses and a growing focus on environmental issues such as climate change, water quality and wildlife on farms.
She added: “We wanted to make sure that as a group the farms on the estate were prepared for the changes ahead and we decided that the best way to do that was to engage early and work together. “We also wanted to take the chance to contribute to this once-in-a-lifetime overhaul of agricultural policy.
She explained that currently each individual farmer has their own stewardship scheme which provides funding for protecting particular farm and upland habitats and preserving features such as traditional boundaries and historical monuments.
Ms Story said: “Although they have been successful in some areas, each scheme is managed individually, so they sometimes miss the bigger picture. “The aim of the Barningham Farmers Group is to trial a new, collaborative way of planning and prioritising environmental management – one that doesn’t stop at the farm gate.”
An assessment of the natural assets on the Barningham Estate is currently underway which will give more information about which species and habitats are thriving on the land and where more management or protection is needed in the future.
The estate is particularly good for the trial because of the diversity of farming that takes place, with some farmers raising livestock, while others grow crops.
Ms Story said: “By planning and working as a group, they hope that their interventions will be more effective and efficient, both for their businesses and for wildlife on the estate. “Nature doesn’t have any regard for property boundaries, so to improve the way we’re managing land for water, wildlife or air quality we need to start looking at these issues, and the solutions, at a landscape scale. “The Barningham project is taking the first steps in that direction, and we hope it will help others to do the same.”
Sir Edward welcomed the trial as well as the minister’s visit. He said: “The Farming Minister comes from a farming background and now runs a small holding so she knows first-hand the challenges facing farmers today from dealing with the RPA (Rural Payments Agency) to the concerns of our future trading relationship with the EU. “We appreciated the opportunity for the stakeholders of Barningham Estate’s ELMS test and trial to talk through some of the issues facing upland farmers. “We are very encouraged that the future of farming is in such capable hands.”