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Charities label post-Brexit scheme for sustainable farming a ‘huge disappointment’

The National Trust, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts say a long-awaited scheme for paying farmers to manage land sustainably breaks Brexit promises and fails to protect wildlife.

The UK’s largest environmental charities have accused the government of failing to protect nature and wildlife as a new scheme for the sustainable management of land is published.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive, (SFI) from the Department for Environment and Rural affairs, (Defra) sets out how farmers will be paid to manage their land in more sustainable ways to combat climate change.

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The scheme is one of three environmental land management schemes being developed by Defra.

But a “shocking lack of ambition” in the SFI breaks Brexit promises and puts the government’s 25-year environment plan in jeopardy, The Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and the RSPB have said. 

Defra’s plans on sustainable management have been long-awaited, with a shake-up of the subsidy system promised by the government in the wake of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Farming accounts for more than 10 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the new plans from Defra had been touted as a way to reduce these emissions and improve land for nature recovery. 

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Having seen the SFI, the charities have said it is a “huge disappointment” which will not incentivise farmers to manage their land in more climate-friendly ways through activities like tree-planting or re-wetting peat bogs.

The SFI sets out just three environmental standards which farmers will be paid for. This includes grassland soils, arable soils and a moorland grazing standard.

Alice Groom, senior policy officer at the RSPB, said that the two grassland standards are largely focused around “basic good practice” already being used, and offering little in the way of reward for “farmers already trying to do their bit to help nature and tackle climate change”.

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She added that Defra have failed to set out how the scheme will contribute to meeting its own environmental targets such as halting species declines by 2030, and risk the targets being missed. 

Groom says there’s also no indication of how the scheme will ramp up in ambition over time.

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “After leaving the EU, we were promised that the billions of pounds of taxpayer’s money given to farmers would be used to improve our natural world. But today’s publication shows a shocking lack of ambition which does very little to address the climate and nature crises. 

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“There’s so much that farmers could be rewarded for doing, such as restoring peatlands and employing ambitious measures to prevent soil and pollutants from washing into rivers – to help wildlife and store carbon.

“It’s an absolute scandal that the government has failed to seize this unique and important opportunity to improve farming so it can help restore nature and address the climate crisis.”

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