30 June 2021

Researchers highlight importance of engaging farmers and landowners to help meet the UK’s biodiversity targets

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee is set to release a report on biodiversity in the UK today (30th June), including recommendations from researchers at the Universities of Sheffield and Reading.

Sunset over a maize field

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee is set to release a report on biodiversity in the UK today (30th June), including recommendations from researchers at the Universities of Sheffield and Reading.

Research led by Dr Ruth Little at the University’s Institute for Sustainable Food has highlighted the importance of engaging farmers and landowners in order to deliver on the UK’s biodiversity targets.

In evidence given to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee as part of its inquiry on Biodiversity and Ecosystems, Dr Ruth Little urged the need to reach out beyond the usual suspects to include harder to reach communities in developing the new Environmental Land Management scheme, which will be a key mechanism for delivering environmental gains.

The research, based on findings from the Agri-Environmental Governance Post-Brexit project, highlights the potential benefits of consulting farmers and other land managers, like foresters, gamekeepers and landowners, so that policy can reflect their needs and land managers feel like they have a stake in the successful operation of the scheme.

This includes making provision for tailored farm-specific advice, farm visits, demonstration farms, and other knowledge-exchange activities that support the achievement of biodiversity goals.

The research, which was conducted in collaboration with the University of Reading, also 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, Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Sheffield, said:

“Getting the new Environmental Land Management scheme right will be critical to the protection of both landscapes and livelihoods. This is the most significant change to agricultural policy in 70 years and could make a real difference to our ability to hit biodiversity targets and achieve net zero by 2050.

“It is great that the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has listened to our recommendations in their new report on Biodiversity in the UK. The identification of agricultural and environmental ‘win-wins’ and the development of more inclusive Environmental Land Management policy will be crucial in generating a more sustainable food future with a clearer focus on maintaining and improving biodiversity” 

Dr David Rose, Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at the University of Reading said:

“Our research has heard from farmers and agriculture partners who are saying that the current systems are failing to engage with many people for whom the Environmental Land Management scheme is going to be crucial. Feedback includes hearing about farmers who have had to drive to a fast food chain to access WiFi to take part in consultations, and it’s clear that the Government needs to do more for these hard to reach groups. I am pleased that the Environmental Audit Committee has taken on board our recommendations and we stand ready to work with Defra to ensure farmers and farm groups can make Environmental Land Management schemes work meaningfully for our environment.”

Download the white paper from the Universities of Sheffield and Reading

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