12 November 2020

Engaging farmers and landowners is key to delivering on the UK’s biodiversity targets, say experts

Dr Ruth Little warned a Parliamentary committee that the planned Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme needs to engage farmers and landowners to best maintain the UK's biodiversity.

Farmer on tractor harvesting organic potatoes - stock photo

Dr Ruth Little from the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food warned a Parliamentary committee today (12 November) that the planned Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme needs to engage farmers and landowners to best maintain and improve biodiversity in the UK.

The new ELM, which replaces European payments to farmers and landowners from 2024, represents a dramatic shift away from the previous support regime, with huge potential to support the agriculture industry to restore nature to health.

Previous research from the University of Sheffield and University of Reading found that farmers want to see less red tape and better access to the internet so that they can engage with the Government’s sustainable farming plans. With some farmers having to travel to the nearest McDonald’s to access wifi, the experts have already called for a simplified bureaucracy and the creation of non-digital ways for farmers to get involved.


Dr Ruth Little recommended that the ELM should be designed in a way that involves farmers and landowners of all levels, and to have the greatest chance at enhancing environmental benefits in the UK, the scheme needs to actively listen to, and engage farmers in the hardest to reach communities.

The evidence presented to the committee is based on findings from the Agri-Environmental Governance Post-Brexit project, a collaboration between the University of Sheffield and the University of Reading. The team are working with farmers, stakeholders and Defra to develop a model for co-designing the new post-Brexit ELM system.

Delivering on the UK’s biodiversity targets requires a well-designed environmental land management payment scheme that engages farmers and landowners so that they can realise the objectives of the new scheme. Effective co-design and widespread engagement and participation are central to the successful delivery of the scheme, which is in turn a key foundation to the successful enhancement of biodiversity.

Dr Ruth Little

Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Sheffield

Defra anticipates that 82,500 farmers will participate in the new ELM scheme by 2028. Our research shows that in order to achieve wide participation, policy-makers need to reach out beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and involve a wide range of land managers in its design and delivery. 

Defra must implement the learnings from previous agri-environment schemes; provide a more accessible, joined-up advisory system, make the scheme beneficial, simplify bureaucracy, remove punitive penalties, and deliver payments on time.

Dr David Christian Rose

Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at the University of Reading

Media contact

Rebecca Ferguson, Media Relations Officer, 0114 222 3076, r.l.ferguson@sheffield.ac.uk

Flagship institutes

The University’s four flagship institutes bring together our key strengths to tackle global issues, turning interdisciplinary and translational research into real-world solutions.