From the UK today comes a welcome report of a new funding scheme designed to support financially farmers who protect natural resources, wildlife and other environmentally-valued aspects of their land.
Internationally these funding schemes are called Payments for Environmental Services. Watersheds are a favourite application of these schemes. The headwaters of rivers are often farmed, or used by indigenous groups, and it makes sense for downstream users (like irrigators or even cities) to pay the upstream groups to look after their land so as to maintain high water quality. A classic scheme of this kind is the agreement set up in the 1990’s between the New York water authority and farmers of the Catskill Mountains watershed.
The new scheme builds on the previously-established Entry Level Stewardship scheme to give it an upland character. Iconic English highlands, such as Dartmoor and the Peak District, are obvious targets. The scheme supports environmentally advantageous land management practices such as reduced use of fertilisers, and heritage farming practices, such as the repair of stone walls. Protection of sites which are important for wildlife are also included.
Apart from the specific environmental benefits this scheme will bring, it gives real effect to a growing recognition that farmers, even when they own their land in freehold, nevertheless must accept responsibility for those elements of their land which provide social benefits. This scheme says, in effect, that if farmers accept that responsibility and act on it, they will be compensated by society for the service they provide. In a sense it is no different from employing a public ranger to carry out these tasks. But a farmer will be a very much more effective steward of these resources on his or her own land, and in any case many of the services (such as fertiliser) are related to farming practice. This is a good scheme, and one which governments around the world should look to implement.
Details of the Upland ELS can be found here.