Written Evidence submitted by The Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA)(ELM0045)
The Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) is the membership association for drainage, water level and flood risk management authorities throughout the UK. ADA represents over 230 members nationally, including internal drainage boards, regional flood & coastal committees, local authorities and national agencies, as well our Associate Members who are contractors, consultants and suppliers to the industry. ADA is recognised as the national representative for Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs).
Broadly speaking, most elements of the timeframe appear to be feasible. However there are some conflicting objectives within some elements which may need further consideration as detailed below. This is a difficult timeframe to construct we recognize, as it would not be prudent to delay action to protect our environment while we take time to fully test every aspect of ELMS, but time is needed for careful consideration before money, time and motivation is lost on poorly designed and considered approaches.
Providing the full scope of all elements of all 3 parts of ELM can be adequately tested and considered then 2024 appears to be broadly feasible to commence a full roll-out but the key to success is sufficient resourcing to do so during the pilots.
Direct payment phase-out
Providing competent and timely support is made available to farmers who need advice and guidance to adapt to the reduced new payments and more complex options, we feel that the proposed timeframes are broadly feasible.
This is difficult to answer as very limited information is available as to what it will cover and to what extent. But from the limited information available, yes the SFI appears to be valuable support measure for farmers prior to full roll-out of ELM and indeed will thereafter be critical to the success of ELM.
Some representations have been made by some organisations that the SFI is just a repackaging of cross compliance and direct payments. Some believe that farmers should simply do the right thing by the environment by moral and legal duty and that as they directly benefit from the improvements they would make, they shouldn’t be further rewarded. We think this is a misguided and narrow viewpoint.
Most homeowners would like to invest in systems which are more efficient and sustainable but they are often out of reach due to costs. That is why Government grants are available to homeowners such as boiler replacements grants. These improved systems will of course benefit the homeowner but will also benefit the environment. A farmer, just like a homeowner, is still an individual with limited resources but is also trying to balance making a living, growing more food and enhancing the environment. Just as government grants help homeowners and non-farming businesses invest and adopt more energy-efficient energy approaches to reduce carbon emissions and improve the environment, as well as reduce their own costs, Government support should be helping farmers to do the same.
Focusing in on soil health improvements as one example, a farmer taking steps to improve his soil health will most likely enjoy in improvements in yield but the same approaches are likely to result in large scale and wide-reaching environmental improvements. These improvements will increase the ecosystem services the environment is able to provide to the local, national and even global population when considered collectively. Related ecosystem services or “public goods” include improved biodiversity, carbon sequestration, reduced carbon emissions, improved water quality and decreased flood risk. These public goods are at the heart of what ELMs is trying to achieve.
However improving soil health is complex. Many of these soil-improving approaches often are a result of significant change to individual farming strategies and practical capabilities in terms of farming machinery. What use would there be in investing in a large-scale habitat restoration project downstream which relied on good water quality if upstream, farmers simply cannot adopt the approaches which help to help improve water quality due to lack of resources?
These sustainable farming approaches cannot happen overnight but the move towards them should be encouraged, supported and sustained through the SFI payments. If some farmers are struggling to adopt these more sustainable approaches now with BPS in place they will be even less opportunity to do so with a reduction in direct payments. In this case the SFI and other funding on offer will definitely help to bridge this gap and maintain momentum towards more sustainable farming approaches.
Given the importance of water level management to both farming and the environment, communication and engagement with IDB’s during the ELMs consultation is much less than we had expected.
Supporting improved water-level management through ELM can be considered to be the epitome of “public goods for public money”. But water level management has to be considered on a catchment scale and positive engagement with all catchment partners is needed in order for the goals of the 25 year environment plan and integrated policies such as the FCERM strategy are to be achieved.
The extremes of climate change and a rising population will force everyone to manage water resources much more efficiently in the very near future. RMAs such as IDBs control the conveyance of large volumes of freshwater across some of the most productive farmland in the UK. These pumped catchments are capable of delivering an incredible array of public goods such as carbon sequestration and flood alleviation alongside biodiversity enhancement and IDBs manage much of the infrastructure to enable these benefits to be brought about. Farmers have an increasing need to manage the highs and lows of freshwater availability driven by climate change to support crop production and the environment. It is inevitable that IDBs and farmers will necessarily be working much more closely together in the future so it is unclear why, at this stage, there has been no engagement with IDB’s to help shape that future through ELMS.
It is imperative that a range of water-level management solutions both on a farm scale and on a landscape scale are piloted in a number of areas. Such measures should include as a minimum floodplain restoration, run-off attenuation, flood alleviation via temporary water storage such as farmland inundation, channel widening and berm installation and freshwater and coastal habitat maintenance and creation. Piloting such measures will help to define the level and source of advice and guidance needed, as well as identifying the best way to structure payments, particularly where there are a number of elements involved such as construction, periodic use and on-going maintenance. ADA can recommend candidates for such pilots and has approached DEFRA directly and members of the environmental stewardship stakeholder working group a number of times to request engagement in order to help shape such elements. As yet, no invitation for involvement has been received.
Advice and guidance & local expertise
The proposed devolution of responsibility for the identification and support of some local priorities is welcomed and most suitable for water-level management related activities. Internal Drainage Boards have a local presence and are governed by board members who include elected local land owners and farmers. As local public bodies, IDBs have the expertise and often the practical capability to assist in the development and installation of local water-level management improvements on and between farms.
There is also a need for ongoing support in order to maintain many features established under ELM relating to water-level management. This ongoing support needs to not only take the form of payments but also in some cases, advice and guidance in the form of regular inspection by a more specialized or technical responsible body to highlight any areas for improvement. For water-level management activities and related habitats, local RMAs such as IDBs are well placed to deliver such services in the long-term at low-cost, representing value for money for the public investment. As such we would urge those responsible for developing ELMs to engage with IDBs As soon as possible in order to develop a framework for engagement between IDBs and farmers.
ADA would also urge those responsible for developing the proposed regulatory reforms to engage with ADA as soon as possible to ensure that the byelaws, consent and enforcement responsibilities of IDB’s are fully considered.
Innovation research and development fund
It is disappointing that this funding stream limits partnerships with farmers to agri-food or UK businesses and excludes public authorities such as IDBs. As we have set out above, without urgent improvements to water level management, particulate in the face of climate change, the impacts on food production and the environment will be significant. We would have liked to see support and funding for water-level managers such as IDBs working in partnership with farmers to trial innovative solutions for improved water level management. ADA would be happy to discuss this further and suggest opportunities in this regard.
For encouraging uptake of particularly water-level management measures, and ensuring successful delivery of policy goals, fair payment is key, both in terms of the initial outlay and for ongoing long-term maintenance.
There is already a good appetite to “get stuck in” amongst the farming and land management community. There is a keenness to not only protect the viability of their business against the water supply extremes we are expecting from climate change, but also to protect their local communities from the same. If the measures they employ are fairly rewarded and supported, both in the initial establishment, and in particular, on-going long-term maintenance, then we expect the uptake could be encouraging. The key is long-term measures and long-term support. Farmers and land managers may not be so willing to expend their time and effort into establishing measures with no longevity and no long-term financial reward. Transparency of what payments will be received, when, and for what will help.
In terms of water-level management, there are no cheap solutions or shortcuts to be made if homes, businesses, the environment and farming livelihoods are to be become more resilient to weather extremes we expect from climate change. Landowners have long been providing flood alleviation to their local areas at their own expense when surface waters or rivers flood their land uncontrollably. Only recently has the Farming Recovery Fund been made available to provide farming applicants with a contribution towards the cost of recovering land for future agricultural use following a flood. Still they are not compensated for the income they have lost due to the destruction of their crop. A more proactive and fair recognition and management of these services and activities is required.
There is a need to offer a range of payments types for more complex schemes, including some water-level management schemes, and the transparency and fairness of these payments is vital to attract uptake.
Action vs outcome based payments
The tendency of previous ELMs was towards action-based payments rather than outcome based payments. We recognize the need to address this through ELMS but significant consideration must be given to define what outcomes can be expected, at what stages, and a recognition that some outcomes will not be achieved or will be slowed without payment for initial action. It may be difficult to convince a landowner that it makes good business sense to restore a cropped area to a habitat which would take many years to mature, such as woodland or fenland, if the payments were purely outcome-based and linked to habitat maturity for example. Action-based payments may be unavoidable in such cases and should be linked to regular maintenance activities which are proven to support the graduation of a newly created or restored habitat into a valuable mature one.
Upfront payments to increase uptake
In terms of water-level management solutions which involve an initial capital outlay, staged payments upfront towards milestone activities in order to establish infrastructure would be reasonable and would make water-level management measures more accessible to more landowners and farmers. This payment approach would be relevant to supporting the development of on-farm planned or unplanned water storage solutions, improvements to existing flood defense assets and creation of new flood defenses for example.
If the cost incurred and income forgone funding approaches could be used to clearly identify the funding a landowner would receive to install water-level management features of this type, then uptake could be encouraging.
Highlight ALL the benefits
It should be made clear what the direct benefits are to farm business through engaging with each of the ELMs measures as well as the environmental benefits. There is a great deal of evidence available which highlights that reduced direct costs or increased yields can be enjoyed as a result of taking certain approaches and this should be clearly communicated.
Farming equipment and technology fund and farming transformation fund
We welcome the inclusion of on-farm water storage and infrastructure in the list of items eligible for funding under the above funding mechanisms. We would like to re-iterate however that consideration must be made to how the long term maintenance of such features will be delivered. As we have mentioned, weather events in the previous few years has highlighted how critical it is to balance capital funding with sufficient maintenance funding to ensure that the full benefits of new infrastructure are long-lived and not diminished by lack of maintenance of linked infrastructure.
Long term planning and maintenance
Public monies should be used as an investment with the aim of underpinning long-term sustainable environmental returns, and not unsustainable short-term improvements. Often environmental damage that we see today is the cumulative effect of activity taking place over many decades and will not be reversed by activities delivered on a short-term basis. In particular, resilience and adaption to the extremes of climate change can only be achieved if we look further ahead and plan for future climate scenarios. This will maximize the longevity and therefore value for money of ELMs measures.
With most environmental land management approaches, particularly in terms of measures to improve water level management, long term maintenance planning and funding is critical to success. Features such as leaky dams, temporary floodwater storage on farmland and farmland reservoirs all require ongoing maintenance. Weather events in the previous few years has highlighted how critical it is to balance capital funding with sufficient ongoing maintenance funding to ensure that the full benefits of new infrastructure are not diminished by lack of maintenance of linked infrastructure.
A range of environmental benefits can be achieved through using multifunctional approaches and solutions. This could avoid the need to prioritise or favor one singular outcome over another.
Local factors are likely to be key in defining the correct action to take to achieve the desired outcomes relating to water-level management, therefore local expertise is likely to be needed and respected. Internal drainage boards for example have a local presence, are governed by board members who include elected local land occupiers, and as local public bodies have the expertise and often the practical capability to assist in the development and installation of local water-level management improvements on and between farms. They would be ideally placed therefore to provide the advice and guidance on water-level management measures supported by the ELM scheme. The proposed devolution of responsibility for the identification and support of some local priorities is therefore welcomed and most suitable for water-level management related activities.
Funding basic landscape-scale improvements
We are supportive of the SFI proposals to fund widely applicable landscape-scale sustainable farming practices which underpin more complex environmental improvement measures such as soil health. We urge that as a minimum they will include mandatory riparian margins, soil organic matter additions, compaction prevention and alleviation, contour ploughing and over-wintered cover to reduce run-off and sedimentation of adjacent watercourses and to improve infiltration.
Regular monitoring and maintenance
Through plans set out in the Environment Bill, any long-term environmental enhancement such as that provided through a conservation covenant or a biodiversity net-gain site must have a responsible body allocated. Through ELMS, the maintenance of many of the environmental enhancements are likely to be within the capabilities of the land-owner or farmer. But for some interventions, a more specialised or technical responsible body may be needed. This may be the case for many of the water-level management solutions proposed under ELM. Features such as habitats or flood resilience assets may require regular specialist inspection or engineering services for repairs and maintenance in order to continue to be safe, function as intended and deliver the required outcomes. Local RMAs such as IDBs or wildlife organisations are well placed to deliver such services in the long-term at cost, representing value for money for the public investment.
Preservation of benefits
While we accept that greater flexibility for participants is required with greater flexibility in particular to exit the scheme, this does leave the question of how to protect valuable habitats or installations created with ELMs funding, from falling into disrepair or being returned to agricultural production if an agreement holder withdraws from ELMs. This is particularly important for flood alleviation measures. We hope that reassurances can be given in this regard.
Definition of success criteria
A design principle for each element within ELMS should include the definition of success criteria and how and when it will be reviewed against them.
Action vs outcome based payments
The tendency of previous ELMs was towards action-based payments rather than outcome based payments. We recognize the need to address this through ELMS but significant consideration must be given to define what outcomes can be expected, at what stages, and a recognition that some outcomes will not be achieved or will be slowed without payment for initial action.
Habitat-related results-based payments
A more proactive approach to habitat restoration should be rewarded. This will favor the move away from payments for action, towards payments for results. Formally, some complex habitats established under CS or ELS schemes have been left to establish on their own with passive, hands-off management but there is a time delay in realising the benefits with this approach and often without active management, the results have been mixed. There are times when passive management is necessary or recommended for such as the formation of saltmarsh. However, often to bring about benefits more quickly, more proactive approaches, where appropriate, such as re-seeding, pre-planted coir rolls or transplanting reeds into newly formed fenland areas for example should be rewarded financially through results-based payment types. This will encourage the establishment of quality habitats more quickly. We agree that a hybrid of action and results based payments may be suitable for some measures and action-based payments may be unavoidable for some. For example an initial payment should be based on action, i.e. habitat area created, and regular action-based payments made for carrying out maintenance in accordance with proven techniques known to help the habitat mature and improve. Woodland or fenland creation are examples which would better fit this action-based system. Periodic review of such features by specialists could advise the appropriate payment levels for a top-up quality element up to a maximum amount against a quality range from low to excellent for example. The periodic review could also recommend improvements where needed.
Broad uptake of simple but valuable measures
The widely applicable, valuable and non-competitive approaches of previous Environmental Stewardship encouraged a good uptake and it is good to see that the SFI and Local Nature Recovery scheme elements retain some of these features. It would be good to see the most popular “free choice” measures undertaken by farmers under previous environmental stewardship schemes included as mandatory sustainable approaches under the SFI such as simple hedgerow management. This would give more room for the more high-value measures to attract higher rates of payment.
Environmental stewardship schemes have previously been criticised for not allowing the consideration of local factors and many potentially valuable ELM contributions were prevented due to the rigid application of the rules. We accept that allowing a more locally flexible approach to deliver specific outcomes will be beneficial and encourage greater uptake of ELM and deliver valuable outcomes, but some criteria do still need to be in place.
Administration and regulation improvements
We support the plans for farmers and regulators work together to improve standards, where concerns over compliance exist, replacing the current automatic penalties. We also support the focus of inspections on high-risk areas or those at higher risk, without reducing the overall number of inspections.
The heavy administrative burden previously placed upon farmers, both in applications and ongoing through the agreements, coupled with system issues are known to have discouraged many to progress their applications or continue their agreements. The time, effort and technical knowledge needed in order to complete and maintain their agreements should be regularly reviewed and improved where necessary.
The introduction of larger and more complex projects may require a participant to liaise with a number of “authorities” to plan projects and to ensure that their actions are compliant and suitable. This is particularly the case with flood alleviation measures and projects which may require engagement with local IDBs or other RMAs. Ensuring the SFI elements are administered efficiently will hopefully give room and enthusiasm for participation in the more complex projects expected under Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery elements of ELMs.
We support the proposal for regulatory reform and to establish a “clear distinction and coherent relationship” between basic legal obligations placed upon a farmer in terms of farming sustainability and schemes which encourage a farmer to go further than the standards by set by law such as ELMs. ADA would be pleased to be engaged in the consultation to develop such an approach and indeed urge those responsible for developing regulatory reform to engage with us to ensure that the byelaws, consent and enforcement responsibilities of an IDB’s work arte fully considered.
Maintenance planning and funding
Some elements of previous environmental stewardship were not as successful both in uptake and outcomes as they could have been due to a lack of advice, planning and funding for ongoing maintenance. Woodland creation was one such example.
Through ELMS, the practical maintenance of many of the environmental enhancements are likely to be within the capabilities of the land-owner or farmer but may still require maintenance advice, plans and funding. But for some interventions, a more specialised or technical responsible body may be needed. This may be the case for many of the water-level management solutions proposed under ELM. Features such as flood resilience assets may require regular specialist inspection or engineering services for repairs and maintenance in order to continue to be safe, function as intended and deliver the required outcomes.
Local RMAs such as IDBs are well placed to deliver such services in the long-term at cost, representing value for money for the public investment. The provision of such monitoring and maintenance should be thoroughly considered and funded in the developing ELMs.
The continued provision of facilitation funding to assist groups of farmers to collaborate will ensure that larger more valuable land-scape scale enhancements can be made.