Free online tool will enable farmers to deliver environmental benefits
A free web-based support tool will enable farmers to deliver environmental improvements and potentially attract payments for providing 'public money for public goods' under the new agri-environment scheme.
The new Environmental Planner tool (E-Planner) has been produced by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) to help farmers make decisions on which agri-environment options to introduce and where these are likely to work best. It uses detailed environmental data at a resolution of just five meters on all two million-plus fields across Great Britain.
The tool analyzes satellite and aerial imagery plus other national-scale datasets to assess the suitability of unproductive or hard-to-farm areas of land for four agri-environment interventions. These are: planting flower-rich pollinator habitats; creating woodland; protecting water resources from pollution; and, sowing winter bird food—categories that are expected to be eligible for farming subsidies under the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.
The analysis is based on a range of factors including soils, nearby habitats, slope and shading.
The ELM scheme will replace the farming subsidy system of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in England, worth around £2bn to English farmers every year.
Farmers will be expected to deliver an increasing range of environmental benefits as well as producing food under the new subsidy schemes. Next year, ahead of ELM's rollout in 2024 Defra will be starting pilot projects, some of which UKCEH will be involved in.
John Redhead, senior Spatial Ecologist at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), who led the development of the E-Planner tool, says: "Bringing together environmental information from digital data, how-to guides and farmers' own local knowledge can be challenging and time consuming, so the tool will help users to make informed decisions quickly and easily.
"It will assist farmers and land managers in transforming unproductive, loss-making parts of their farm into environmentally friendly uses that may attract a public subsidy."
UKCEH has more than 20 years' experience in designing and monitoring agri-environment schemes, and already works extensively with Defra as well as farms and farming organisations across the country. It is now working with the farming industry to validate and further develop the E-Planner.
The tool will assist farmers and land managers in transforming unproductive, loss-making parts of their farm into environmentally friendly uses that may attract a public subsidy—John Redhead
The tool has been created by UKCEH as part of ASSIST, a six-year £12m National Capability research programme, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
Professor Richard Pywell, Head of Biodiversity at UKCEH, who leads the ASSIST programme, explains: "Our free E-Planner tool is another important part of the toolkit for farmers and land managers, helping them achieve the ambitions of the new Agriculture Bill and 25 Year Environment Plan, to maintain and enhance the natural world.
"More environmentally sustainable farming methods, such as measures to support insect pollinators, reduce soil erosion and planting trees not only improve agricultural productivity, but also benefit wildlife and society too."