Farmers to be paid to restore natural habitats in push to rewild countryside

The initiative will be open to individual landowners and farmers or groups engaging in land management projects spanning 500 to 5,000 hectares. Applications will open shortly, with 15 projects due to receive funding initially. Ministers believe the reforms will play a major role in the Government’s drive to halt the decline in British species by 2030 and restore up to 300,000 hectares of habitat by the 2040s.

However, prominent figures in the farming industry have expressed concern that the changes place too great an emphasis on freeing up land for rewilding over the need to support domestic food production and self-sufficiency.

There are also concerns that the reforms will disproportionately benefit wealthy landowners, rather than hundreds of tenants who account for 50 per cent of the nation’s farming.

The schemes come on top of the recently announced Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), which will pay farmers for using sustainable land management methods. It is being tested by nearly 1,000 farmers and is due to be rolled out nationally from 2022.

Hailed as the biggest overhaul of farming and land management in half a century, the schemes will replace the basic payments system operated under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Key prize after leaving EU

Brexiteers and some environmentalists see reforms of farming subsidies as a key prize of leaving the EU, having long argued that the CAP is skewed in favour of larger landowners and has failed to protect the environment.

Mr Eustice said: “Our new policies will support the choices that individual farmers make, with freedom to choose which elements work for them.

“I have already set out more detail on our new Sustainable Farming Incentive, with a focus on soil health. This week I will say more about Local Nature Recovery and making space for nature in the farmed landscape, and Landscape Recovery – which will pay landowners who want to produce environmental outcomes through land use change.”

Last night, a senior figure in the farming industry said that the SFI scheme appeared to be far less generous than the basic payments scheme in terms of funding per hectare.

They also raised concerns that future incentives would overwhelmingly benefit large landowners rather than tenant farmers, many of whom are not permitted to plant trees or take any financial reward for growing them.

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