BRITAIN’S Agriculture Bill hands the reins back to farmers, says Northumberland National Park Authority’s farming and rural enterprise officer.

Or, at least, the modus operandi for its ‘public money for public goods’ scheme, scheduled to start in 2024, does.

Emma Taylor said: “They are talking about payments for results, so rather than farmers being saddled with ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ and saying ‘you can’t cut your meadow until this date’ or put any fertiliser on it and it has to be planted up by a certain date, instead they will say ‘if you have 20 of these particular flowers, you will receive the top rate’.

“How farmers achieve that will be up to them.

“The real hope is that the new policy will allow farmers flexibility to tailor their practices to local circumstances and to use the benefit of their own knowledge and experience.”

To give it its correct name, the Environmental Land Management scheme will build on the existing Stewardship schemes so familiar to many, although the Government says it will be less onerous and involve less bureaucracy.

It will be phased in over seven years, overlapping with the tail end of the direct payments under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. They are due to end in 2027.

Those farming within the bounds of Northumberland National Park had little to worry about when it came to meeting the new criteria, said Emma.

“There’s been a huge take-up of the Environmental and Countryside Stewardship schemes among the national park’s farmers – 95 per cent are in one or the other.

“Most upland farms will be ticking the new boxes anyway, so it’s more about maintenance of what they do or, at most, maybe making a few tweaks.”

Maintaining the quality of water courses, maintaining peat bogs and therefore their role in ‘carbon capture’, and supporting public access to the countryside, something important to the nation’s health and wellbeing, were already integral to what upland farmers did.

“Most of our farmers are already providing a huge amount in the way of public goods,” she said. And the National Park Authority would help them to continue to do so, with advice and guidance on how to enrol in the new scheme.

Defra was currently trialling elements of the Environmental Land Management scheme – testing how it will work in reality – in the Breamish Valley.