Written evidence submitted by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (ELM0006)


1.              The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) is grateful for the opportunity to provide evidence to the EFRA Committee Inquiry into ELM and the Agricultural Transition.

2.              UKCEH is an independent, not-for-profit research institute carrying out excellent environmental science with impact. Our 500 scientists work to understand the environment, how it sustains life, and the human impact on it. 

3.               Our research makes a major contribution to the development of sustainable, productive farming systems that are resilient to climate change and protect biodiversity. We provide tools and data for planning future land use that optimise benefits to food production while minimising conflicts with provision of other ecosystem services; and we provide the evidence base for the design of resilient environmental and management policies and practices, nationally and internationally.

4.              Our scientists are currently contributing to evaluation of the tests and trials of new environmental land management options for Defra, and to monitoring of agri-environment schemes for Welsh Government.

5.              We hope that this response is helpful, and we would be happy to discuss any of the evidence with the Committee.



  1. Is the Government’s timeframe for the national pilot, full roll-out of ELM and phasing out direct payments by 2027 feasible?

Much depends on the readiness of the ELM scheme, including critically the Sustainable Farming Incentive, because it needs to start sooner than the other elements. To date the Tests & Trials (T&Ts) have been very diverse in terms of aims and methodologies, as well as focusing on particular areas and groups. While good work is underway consolidating findings, there is an urgent need for a lot of support for groups or individuals implementing schemes on the ground. It is not yet clear how these schemes will be implemented, or what support they will receive from the body implementing them. The majority of farmers are not engaged with T&Ts at all, and even those that are remain very uncertain how the pilot phase of testing will proceed and of their role within it.

If the Sustainable Farming Incentive looks a lot like the current Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme, then a roll out becomes more feasible – although presumably there will be considerations pertinent to funding for actions under this incentive.

We strongly recommend that the outcome of the ELM pilot is independently evaluated and compared with an appropriate counter-factual. It is critically important that comprehensive and repeatable measurements are made of a wide range of ecosystem goods and services. These should be compared to trends in national data for these ecosystem goods and services.

Will the Sustainable Farming Incentive be a viable support measure for farmers before the full roll-out of ELM? Is further support required during the transition period?

See above. This partly depends on the level of funding associated with it, but also on the accessibility of the scheme for all farmers (the simplicity of application and payment methods) and the support offered at local levels to bring them in. It inevitably also depends on external factors such as how successful the BREXIT transition has been and what prices are like. Having funding available in the legacy schemes will help – but farmers who have never been in schemes are not likely to benefit from this.

How effectively has Defra engaged with land managers and other stakeholders on the design of ELM, including on the transitional arrangements?

From working on the evaluation of the T&Ts and communicating with various farming groups, some of the T&Ts seemed unclear as to what their engagement in the pilot might be.

  1. How can ELM be made an attractive business choice for farmers and land managers while effectively delivering its policy goals?

It needs to fit with farmer objectives. The T&Ts, by engaging with farmers and wider stakeholders, have sought to ensure that this is the case, but a lot of that work seems to be focused on the two higher tier components and less on the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

The message for farmers needs to be clear: What do we want from their land? There remains a ‘produce more’ agenda, and running alongside it a ‘look after the land’ agenda.

An attractive business choice for farmers would be to produce well – that is to produce high quality produce that encourages biodiversity, soil health and healthy landscapesand to be paid adequately for doing so.

  1. How can the Government ensure that ELM agreements achieve their intended environmental outcomes, reduce bureaucratic burdens on farmers and deliver value for money?

As stated above for the national pilot, independent monitoring of ELMs environmental outcomes is essential – preferably both within a wider monitoring framework which assesses the state and change of England’s natural capital assets, and targeted monitoring where appropriate, for example linked to species-specific outcomes. Comparisons with change across the wider countryside will allow the outcomes of ELM to be evaluated.

If farmers are in receipt of public money, some bureaucracy is inevitable. Getting buy in from farmers through involving them in producing the schemes, potentially also in demonstrating the schemes and in advocating for the schemes, is likely to help; as are paying adequately, providing long term agreements, and providing support for applications and implementation. Value for money should be linked to active management and measurable landscape change, e.g. planting or gapping up hedgerows, but not necessarily to payment by results, as other factors may limit the results of actions.

Some new technologies might help with aspects of planning, self-assessment and monitoring of ELM agreements, potentially reducing the bureaucratic burden on farmers. For example, providing land managers and landscape decision makers with access to easy to use spatial planning tools. UKCEH has developed a simple to use tool called the Environmental Planner Tool (E-Planner). This tool maps the relative suitability for land management enhancements for more than 2 million fields across GB. These include local environmental enhancement such as creation of habitats for pollinators and birds, and protection of water resources from pollution.  The next version of the E-Planner will take into account the relative suitability of individual land parcels for local natural flood preventions.

UKCEH also has developed a simple to use mobile phone app called the Environmental Surveyor (E-Surveyor).  This is designed to help farmers assess the quality of the habitats they have created. The app uses advanced AI image recognition technology to identify plants (flowers and leaves) with a very high degree of accuracy. It provides additional information on the pollinator species associated with each flower species that is refined for location and habitat type; and it has inbuilt functionality to undertake simple surveys of habitat quality and benchmark performance against national, regional and local targets. The app has pre-loaded all commercially available wildflower and wild bird seed mixtures. The farmer simply selects their seed mix and the app scores how many of the sown species have established.

  1. What lessons should be learned from the successes and failures of previous schemes paying for environmental outcomes?

There is a large body of monitoring evidence from previous schemes which can usefully inform this question, much of which was commissioned by Defra and Natural England. A full review of previous AES monitoring is outside the scope of this response, but key points from recent monitoring include:



References and reports cited above