The UK’s decision to leave the EU is seen by the Government as an opportunity to reform UK agricultural land policy. Researchers from the University of Reading and the University of Sheffield are consulting farmers and other key stakeholders, and working with Defra to develop a model for co-designing the new post-Brexit Environmental Land Management system. Dr David Rose discusses the importance of engaging audiences beyond the usual suspects to develop the best possible scheme.

I recently spoke at the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum event, ‘Next steps for UK agriculture policy and funding’. As the UK leaves the EU, the Common Agricultural Policy will no longer apply and new agri-environment schemes will reward land managers for the provision of various public goods – including cleaner air and water, flood protection, enhanced biodiversity, mitigation of climate change, and public access to nature and cultural heritage. Each devolved nation is drawing up their own new scheme, including in England, where The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is seeking to ‘co-design’ the new Environmental Land Management scheme with land managers in England.

During the forum I discussed how Defra should engage a wide range of stakeholders in the co-design and delivery of the new agri-environment policy reaching beyond the ‘usual suspects’ (such as the speakers in my session, including me!) and include “harder to reach” land managers in the design of the policy. I’m sure a session on the practicalities of the new agri-environment scheme would have been quite different if farmers, foresters, gamekeepers etc. had also had an opportunity to present. It is always important to engage audiences outside of academia, particularly those directly affected by such policies!  It is very encouraging to see Defra are now trying to engage land managers in many different ways, including through online consultations, workshops, outreach events, and in a network of Tests and Trials across England.

In a study conducted jointly with the University of Sheffield, barriers to wider audience engagement with the new agri-environment scheme included a perception of too much bureaucracy,  lack of trust, times pressures and limited broadband in rural areas. But these challenges must be addressed if a new agri-environment scheme is going to be better for England than the Common Agricultural Policy. Our study proposed a number of solutions that ultimately aimed to make engagement from more attractive and less time intensive.

One key point raised by a number of speakers at the forum was to help farmers transition from current schemes to the new policy as indeed was the importance of providing trusted, free, and independent advice to land managers. The transition from the Basic Payment Scheme, which currently pays farmers based on how much land they have (EU’s Common Agricultural Policy), towards the Environmental Land Management scheme will be difficult for some land managers. Ensuring that they have the support needed to understand why and how to transition, as well as to maximise benefits of the new scheme, will be crucial to make sure that no one is left behind.

It was great to hear the Deputy Director at Defra for Future Farming Policy and the Agriculture Bill specifically highlight the importance of engaging beyond the usual suspects in scheme design. He was heartened by our ideas on how to do this. We are grateful to Defra for their ongoing support and interest in our work.

Our ESRC-funded project with the University of Sheffield continues until late 2021. We would be delighted to hear from all stakeholders so that we can better inform Defra about how to do co-design of the Environmental Land Management scheme. The new scheme will be piloted from 2021 and launched in 2024, so there is still time to shape what it says. Stay up-to-date with the projects outputs here.

Dr David Rose is Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at the University of Reading.