WWF, together with leading banks, food businesses, farming groups and civil society organisations have come together to call for ‘bold and decisive action’ from the government to raise the ambition of the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) for England.
In an unprecedented joint public statement, the organisations from across the food system have called for the ‘ambition and delivery’ of all parts of ELMS to be raised to support farmers seeking to protect and enhance nature, while continuing to produce food.
70% of England’s land is used for agriculture, meaning that the way we farm and use the land is vital for both reducing emissions and capturing carbon.
In addition the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with more than one in seven of our native species facing extinction and more than 40% in decline.
The schemes will pay farmers to adopt nature-friendly farming practices which lower the use of expensive inputs and futureproof our food system, helping England cut the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) driving climate change.
However, the government must ensure that ELMS are both accessible to farmers and delivers on the UK’s climate and nature targets.
To achieve this, Defra must provide sufficient budget for the more advanced, targeted and collaborative actions in ELMS, while also allowing farmers to stack their income options.
This in turn will catalyse private investment which can add to, but not replace, public funding.
The statement, which has been signed by more than 50 organisations including WWF, NatWest and Nature Friendly Farming Network, reads:
‘Now is the time for bold, decisive action if we are to create a productive, regenerative and resilient food system into the future.
‘We are all ready to work together to make that happen, including unleashing the potential of the private sector as long as a strong and secure policy signal from government is in place.
‘The UK’s legal net zero and biodiversity commitments depend on the way that our land is used to produce food.
‘Enhancing the ELM schemes is the single largest act of leadership and support that government can provide to this shared endeavour at this crucial time – now is the time to move forward without delay.’
As part of its wider climate pledge, the UK set targets to reduce its GHG emissions by 68% by 2030, increasing to 78% by 2035.
However, it is woefully behind on progress; the government’s own statistics show that the UK is on track to miss its legally binding target by a huge margin.
Failing to deliver on emissions reductions in agriculture and land will not only affect the UK’s ability to meet its net zero targets, but also legal commitments to restore nature.
Restoring peatlands and forests, and weaving nature into farmland, can create important habitats for species like curlews, and store more water to help farmers, communities and wildlife cope better with extreme weather like the drought we have seen this year.
The ELM schemes can be the key to delivering this in England, but only if there is a step change in ambition, matched by funding and greater clarity for farmers.
‘Currently, the only action we’re seeing on ELMS is ongoing delays and tinkering with names. Defra needs to move on from the upheaval and delays of recent months and deliver on their promise to farmers with the clarity, ambition and certainty they need.
‘We urgently need world leaders to commit to a shift to nature-friendly, low-carbon farming. Not only will this help in our fight to restore nature, and tackle climate change, but will also make the farming sector more resilient and underpin food security.
‘As environment ministers meet at the COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal, the UK Government must showcase to the world how we can end subsidies that are harming nature by making ELMS the cornerstone of a resilient food system – the world is watching, and our future stability depends on it.’
Executive director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF-UK
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