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University research team announces findings of new study for Defra

Researchers at the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), based at University of Gloucestershire, have announced the findings of a new study carried out on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) around landscape recovery.

The study – funded by Defra’s Test and Trials programme in support of the upcoming Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes – explored the potential of introducing long-term agreements of at least 30 years, to give soils and habitats time to regenerate, to achieve landscape recovery in lowland productive areas.

The Landscape Recovery scheme, which is the most ambitious tier of the ELM scheme, will pay farmers to deliver environmental benefits, including restoring rivers and supporting land use change to create a greater level of habitat diversity.

The CCRI research team, in collaboration with property consultants Strutt & Parker, worked closely with several groups, including land managers, environmental organisations, land agents, and water companies, around the practicality of a potential long-term agreement of at least 30 years.

The researchers found that long-term agreements would have limited uptake in agriculturally productive areas, with land managers citing issues such as concerns over the impact of climate change, difficulties around planning over a 30-year timeframe, and the challenges of short-term tenancies.

Both land managers and stakeholders did, however, recognise that these agreements could offer an opportunity to put in place ambitious measures, which could lead to permanent recovery and restoration of landscapes.

Dr Charlotte Chivers (pictured), who led the project, said: “This test and trial has been a great opportunity to engage with land managers and other interested parties from the very beginning, allowing us to develop ideas which fully represent their views.

“We have found a clear need for greater clarity around whether long-term agreements would follow a conservation covenant style approach, how a blend of private and public finance could be structured, how monitoring and evaluation would work in a cost-effective, efficient way which places trust in land managers and understands the need for flexibility, and any tax implications associated with these agreements.”

The CCRI team hope that the final report and head of terms agreement template will be useful for policymakers, land managers, and potential sources of blended finance when considering ways of making long-term agreements more feasible in productive landscapes.