Written evidence for the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s Inquiry: Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Linking Environment And Farming

September 2020

This is a response to a request for evidence on the evaluation of UK Government measures to conserve and enhance biodiversity.

We at Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF) would like to first state that we fully support any measures to conserve and enhance biodiversity as a key resource for the sustainable future of the planet. We are living in a crucial stage for sustainable farming, with farmers on the front line of climate change solutions – from reducing carbon emissions, building healthier soils, delivering clean water and air, and enhancing biodiversity. As a leading organisation delivering sustainable food and farming, much of LEAFs work focuses on protecting and enhancing biodiversity, with biodiversity forming the basis of Integrated Farm Management. We work to develop and promote Integrated Farm Management in three core pillars: facilitating knowledge generation and exchange, developing market opportunities through LEAF Marque, and educating and engaging the public in sustainable food and farming.

1.              LEAFs engagement with the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

LEAF have been involved in the co-design process of the Environmental Land Management scheme since its inception, through Defra’s Stakeholder Engagement programme, the Test and Trials programme and individual interviews and consultations with Defra and relevant Arms Length Bodies. Evidence delivered to Defra by LEAF to date, in the form of two reports (attached1, 2) address novel delivery mechanisms (discussed in 1.2 and 1.3) and the role of advice. The Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme has great potential to preserve and enhance biodiversity, by rewarding sustainable practices that ensure the procurement of six key public goods through ELM: clean and plentiful water; clean air; protection from and mitigation of natural hazards; mitigation of and adaptation to climate change; thriving plants and wildlife; and beauty, heritage and engagement, all of which focus on environmental enhancement. 

1.1              Integration is key.

Although it could be assumed that the obvious relevant public good to the maintenance and improvement of biodiversity and ecosystems is thriving plants and wildlife, we argue that integration is key. You cannot achieve one aspect of sustainability without another. Procurement of all six of the public goods mentioned above must be aimed for through integrated landscape-level planning. Having multiple measures addressing all aspects of land management as part of one integrated landscape management plan ensures that true sustainable development can occur. The nine areas of Integrated Farm Management (organisation and planning; soil management and fertility; crop health and protection; pollution control and by-product management; animal husbandry; energy efficiency; water management; landscape and nature conservation; community engagement) all work together to deliver the maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services, in the farmed environment and beyond.

1.2              Self-assessment as an approach for farmers to provide supporting evidence of delivery of the public goods, in particular biodiversity.

As part of the ELMs Test and Trial programme, LEAF conducted a biodiversity app trial1 assessing the scope and viability of self-assessment apps as a supplier of evidence within the Environmental Land management scheme, addressing two of the priority areas of ELM policy design: innovative delivery solutions and advice and guidance. As the use of mobile apps have been increasing through society, so have their innovative uses in delivering solutions to monitoring and recording metrics in the agricultural industry. An app currently under development by LEAF, used by land managers to monitor and record on-farm biodiversity was used as a platform to evaluate the potential for apps to be used to provide evidence of public goods delivery. The study concluded five key learning points1:

  1. Apps such as the one under development during this trial could play a role in on-farm self-assessment of public goods including biodiversity

 

  1. Offering apps as an optional tool complementary to existing advice services and monitoring networks could avoid discrepancies between diverse farm circumstances and build on existing skills, knowledge, and experience

 

  1. To provide information of an adequately reliable and consistent quality for government use, any app-based tool will require training, support, and verification

 

  1. Uptake of app-based tools will be dependent on user confidence in protocols regarding gathering, transfer, storage and end-use of data

 

  1. Integration with existing software, hardware and network capabilities is critical

 

1.3              Farm assurance scheme certification for the procurement of public goods.

One potential approach being considered for the procurement of public goods through ELM is farm assurance scheme certification. LEAF Marque is an environmental farm assurance scheme that certified 936 businesses in 27 countries in 2019, 564 of them being in the UK covering 337,028 ha3. A desk-based study connecting Control Points in the LEAF Marque Standard v.15.0 (Appendix A) with the public goods proposed for payment by ELM was undertaken, resulting in a table (Appendix B) showing where the Control Points of the LEAF Marque Standard v.15.0 cross over with defined public good outcomes, and five key learning points:

  1. Earned Recognition of outcomes delivered by the LEAF Marque assurance system has precedent in the UK agri-environmental context through reduced inspection burden for cross-compliance under CAP
     
  2. LEAF Marque assurance is a recognised, respected, and robust assurance system that has independently scrutinised processes of governance

 

  1. LEAF Marque Standard v.15.0 contains mandatory Control Points pertaining to the delivery of all 6 public goods intended for payment through the ELM scheme 

 

  1. Actions represented in the LEAF Marque Standard have proven environmental performance impact, including conservation and biodiversity, Integrated Pest Management, soil quality, animal welfare, non-renewable resource use efficiency, community relations and water resource management

 

  1. LEAF Marque assurance has a whole farm approach, with Control Points that align with delivery of public goods
     

2.              Biodiversity protection and enhancement strategies

LEAF has extensive experience and engagement in the development of the Environmental Land Management scheme, which is the focus of this paper. However, we recognise the importance and potential of other strategies, such as Biodiversity Net Gain and Nature Recovery Networks. Appendix C outlines LEAFs perspectives on these.

              2.1              Nature Recovery Networks

There is a need for standard approaches to be designed to ensure that numerous Nature Recovery Maps work together in a practical, effective, and cohesive manner. Additionally, if there are standards, then we can work together at all levels – locally, regionally, and nationally. Processes are more effective when we work together at scale. However, mapping is just the initial stage; we need to turn the maps to life by agreeing priorities and working together. The existence of networks such as the LEAF Network, made up of LEAF Demonstration Farms and Innovation Centres, encourages industry communication and develops relationships, enabling us to push innovative strategies forwards, such as the development of Nature Recovery Maps and standards.

3.              The development of and participation in knowledge exchange networks, such as the LEAF Network, is essential for the sustainable future of the agricultural industry.

These networks may be comprised of single or multiple groups, such as growers, advisors, researchers, and policy makers. The LEAF Network is made up of 40 Demonstration Farms and 11 Innovation Centres.

3.1 Demonstration Farms

LEAF Demonstration Farms are working, commercial farms that are practicing Integrated Farm Management. The Demonstration Farmers come together to communicate, discuss, and demonstrate best practice, alongside promoting sustainable farming to other groups such as industry, students, and politicians. Demonstration Farmers are at the forefront of delivering the public goods associated with Environmental Land management, evidencing outcomes through technical demonstration and peer to peer knowledge exchange.

3.2 Innovation Centres

LEAF Innovation Centres are academic and industry research organisations that work to develop and promote Integrated Farm Management practices.

4.              Conclusion and recommendations

4.1              The LEAF Marque System offers a globally established, recognised, and respected assurance system for the recognition of public goods delivery through Environmental Land Management. The robust governance and cumulative experience of its parent organisation, LEAF, brings to the table opportunity for ELM to be delivered through a ready-made route for farms of all scales and sectors. The efficiency of Earned Recognition of legislative compliance through LEAF Marque assurance can be built on as the sector looks towards provision of exactly the agri-environmental outcomes that LEAF Marque is designed to certify.

4.2              On these grounds, we recommend that assurance standards including LEAF Marque certification are recognised within the ELM scheme design as a proxy for public goods delivery and certified businesses awarded Earned Recognition accordingly in the form of scheme eligibility/ payment for associated outcomes. This approach would utilise the private certification sector’s robust and efficient inspection system to assure transparent and consistent procurement of public goods through ELM

4.3              Demonstration Farms such as in the LEAF Network have a key role to play in the uptake, success and associated impact on biodiversity of the ELM scheme. In regard to payments, farmers could be given recognition within Tier 1 for hosting or assisting with visits and events that showcase practices known to be delivering on ELM outcomes and attending other such events. A Tier 2 aspiration could be the progression towards a holistic integrated farming system demonstration hub, such as the LEAF Demonstration Farms.

5.              Appendices

Appendix A: LEAF Marque Standard v.15.0

Appendix B: LEAF Marque v.15.0. and ELM Outcomes

Appendix C: Maintaining and Enhancing Biodiversity Strategies

 

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG)

Nature Recovery Networks

ELMs

Purpose

Focused for developments. “an approach to development that leaves biodiversity in a better state than before”.

Nature Recovery Networks made up from BNG and strengthened biodiversity duty. 25 year environment plan: commitment to “develop a Nature Recovery Network to protect and restore wildlife, and provide opportunities to re-introduce species that we have lost from our countryside.”

To reward farmers, growers and land managers in England for the delivery of the public goods of: clean and plentiful water; clean air; protection from natural hazards; prevention and mitigation of climate change; thriving plants and wildlife; and beauty, heritage and engagement. Pilot from 2021, rollout from 2024.

Format

Mandatory 10% biodiversity net gain in all future land development schemes. 10 principles for good practice – all must be applied together as one approach.

Network Recovery Plan – Networks will provide 500,000 ha of additional wildlife habitat. These sites will assist in linking existing protected sites and landscapes, urban green and blue infrastructure. Based upon the Lawton principles of Bigger, Better, More and Joined Up.

Nature Recovery Maps tools are being developed at the national level. It is probable that this will result in standard principles being designed for mapping Nature Recovery Networks.

Scheme intended to be accessible to a high proportion of farmers, growers and land managers, funded through reductions in BPS payments.

Opportunities/ Barriers

Mandatory 10% gain suggests continued improvement which is one of the key bases to Integrated Farm Management. Integrated approach - What LEAF works towards always. Integration and enhancement are at the core of LEAF. What metrics are being used? 10 principles to assess against – simple. Principles are sensibly ordered and chronological in development process. Land managers – will they have access to resources/knowledge to assess/plan? Who has final say? Who do you submit plan to? How do you justify reasoning?

There is a need for standard approaches to be designed to ensure that numerous maps fit together correctly. Additionally, if there are standards, then we can work together at all levels – locally, regionally and nationally. Processes are more effective when we work together at scale. Mapping is just the initial stage. We need to turn the maps to life by agreeing priorities and working together. The existence of  networks such as the LEAF Network, made up of LEAF Demonstration Farms and Innovation Centres, encourages industry communication and develops relationships, enabling us to push innovative strategies forwards, such as the development of Nature Recovery Maps and standards.

Diverse requirements for different sectors and holding sizes. Transparency and robustness of procurement process vital. LEAF Marque assurance can contribute to this through an established verification procedure for IFM systems which have been shown to deliver on public goods outcomes intended for payment by ELM. Peer to peer knowledge exchange demonstrating existing good practice, for example through the LEAF Demonstration Farm Network will be critical to uptake, engagement, delivery and impact of ELM.

 

Appendix D: LEAF Demonstration Farm - Case Study

Sharing Best Practice Case Study: LEAF Demon­stra­tion Farms

The successful adoption of ELMs is key.  Sharing best practice on the agri-environmental win-wins will be essential to unlock the value of improved environment delivery and productivity.  Farmers that are already working in ways that reap both economic and environmental rewards have a useful role to play through peer to peer learning, inspiring and supporting others in the rollout of ELMs and the provision of environmental outcomes at the ambition and scale intended.

Pioneering and forward-thinking farmers working in partnership through demonstration farm networks can accelerate the development and uptake of more sustainable farming practices, ensuring that rigorously evidenced, relevant, practical advice on implementing new practices reaches farmers on the ground.  LEAF Demon­stra­tion Farms are work­ing, com­mer­cial farms delivering and demonstrating more sustainable farming through Inte­grat­ed Farm Man­age­ment (IFM). They provide a platform where innovative approaches are experimented, developed and adapted to drive change and create a platform for dis­cussion and demon­stration of IFM best prac­tice amongst oth­er farm­ers. They also play a crit­i­cal role in pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able farm­ing to wider groups such as politi­cians, researchers, indus­try and students.

There are currently 41 LEAF Demonstration farms across the UK

Supporting the farming industry in achieving net zero Carbon targets and public goods delivery will require vision, innovation and determination. LEAF Demonstration Farms are geared towards improving productivity while delivering on the public goods that ELM is intended to pay for. Our priority is to build farmers skills, know-how and confidence across the industry to meet these national and global targets and ensure they have access to the most up to date research and technological advances. In particular they provide evidence around the economic and environmental impact of agro-ecological farming and ensures it works at both farm and landscape level for businesses and the wider agri-environment.

In common with other groupings such as the AHDB Monitor Farm Network, the LEAF Demonstration Farmer Network represent some the UK’s most forward-thinking land managers, driving ‘science into practice’. Building more robust, integrated and regenerative farming approaches is an industry-wide responsibility. Through robust assurance underpinned by real results showcased by technical demonstration and education activities, Demonstration Farmers are at the front line of not only delivering the public goods associated with Environmental Land Management but helping others to move in the same direction through peer to peer knowledge exchange.

In the context of payments, farmers could be allocated recognition within Tier 1 for hosting or contributing to visits and events that demonstrate practices shown to be delivering on ELM outcomes and attending such events, potentially to a minimum annual extent. Progression to become holistic farm system demonstration hub such as the LEAF Demonstration Farms might be a Tier 2 aspiration.

6.              References

1. LEAF ELMS Project 4 Report, February 2020

2. LEAF ELMS Project 2 Report, September 2020

3. LEAF Global Impacts Report 2020

https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/leaf-website/LEAFs-Global-Impacts-Report-2020-FINAL.pdf

4. Baseline Report, Biodiversity in Standards and Labels for the Food Industry, Global Nature Fund, 2017