What is ELMS?

ELMS: The payment schemePoppies by Nicole Weber

ELMS stands for Environmental Land Management Scheme and is the new way the UK government will subsidise land owners after leaving the EU. These payments are directed at land managers to help them best look after their land with a range of public interests in mind and for a range of services that benefit people, not just food or timber production.

The government recognises that land owners are the stewards of our natural environment. The way land is managed will have a great influence on everything from the supply of clean water, to the protection of natural hazards such as flooding, or helping to fight climate change. You can find out more about the scheme on Defra’s website: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/elm/elmpolicyconsultation/

The ELMS App scores sites on their delivery of 9 ecosystem services. We hope this will help highlight the benefits of added-value land management payments from Defra, which aim to assist farmers and land managers look after and improve the quality or extent of features on their land that supply us with things we need to survive, other than just food.

A Brief History of Land Payments

Since 1962, EU farming subsidies have come from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The primary purpose for the formation of the CAP was to increase productivity and ensure food security. Throughout its history, this purpose has always been at the core of the CAP, and has often been considered detrimental to the environment as a result as it encouraged agricultural intensification. Later reforms attempted to address this by bringing in environmental subsidies (such as the addition of set-aside).

From 2015, much of the CAP subsidies came in the form of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments. A small amount was also paid via the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which gave farmers incentive for enacting a range of management options which were beneficial to the environment. Although the Scheme delivered good value for money in terms of environmental outcomes, it came under scrutiny due to the difficulty in applying for it. It was also not widespread enough to make a substantial difference in the landscape.

In January 2018, the UK government published a 25 Year Environment Plan which included proposals for a new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). This would replace CAP payments after Britain left the EU and would have a strong focus on paying land owners for managing their land in a way that benefits the environment. Test and trials delivered to help design ELMS began in 2018 and some will continue through to 2027. The plan is to phase out existing payments over the next few years and replace them with ELMS in 2024.

What are Ecosystem Services?

Whether it is something you think about or not, our ecosystems provide a range of services which benefit our lives in so many ways:

  • Provisioning services include the conditions which allow us to grow food, generate energy and access minerals.
  • Regulating services include improving the quality of water and air, moderating natural hazards such as flooding, and mitigating the effects of climate change.
  • Cultural services include giving access to nature for recreation, education, health and wellbeing, inspiration for art and so much more.
  • Supporting services reinforce those listed above, and include things like pollinator provision and soil formation.

The resources that provide these ecosystem services are described as natural capital. They are often taken for granted as they rarely have any direct monetary value, but indirectly they have a high worth in contributing to the production of goods and protection of homes and businesses. For this reason, attempts have been made to put a price on natural capital in order to allow a more direct comparison in the market and help people better understand their value.