Improving the Success of Agri-Environment Initiatives: the Role of Farmer Learning and Landscape Context

Lead Research Organisation: NERC CEH (Up to 30.11.2019)
Department Name: Acreman


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.
Description Since 1987 voluntary schemes in the UK have encouraged farmers to look after the natural environment and to compensate them for economic losses arising from this wildlife-friendly farming. However, research has suggested that these agri-environment initiatives have produced variable outcomes and there is considerable scope for improvement. We assessed constraints on agri-environment success in the establishment of two field margin options under the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme - the basic agri-environmental programme in the UK: 1) the provision winter food for farmland birds by sowing plants with high energy seed; and 2) planting pollen- and nectar-rich flowering plants for bumblebees and butterflies. We studied 48 farms; 24 of the farmers undertook a one day bespoke training course with a follow-up half-day farm visit, while the remaining 24 received no training. Over five years we measured whether the wildlife habitats created by the trained and untrained farmers attracted target species of birds and insects and what local and landscape factors affected the quality of these habitats. The training not only had an immediate impact, but continued to influence farmer attitudes, their management of the agri-environment strips, and the quality of habitat on these strips. These outcomes can be summarised as follows. 1) Farmers welcome advice on questions such as selection of appropriate seed mixes. 2) The impact of training can be seen both in technical aspects of management and in attitudes and a sense that farmers can do a better job on environmental management. 3) Over the five years, farmers who had been trained created better quality wildlife habitat, in terms of flower resources for bee and seeds for birds, which translated into some local increases in target species of birds and bees. We found regional differences in the abundance of birds, butterflies and bees found on the agri-environment strips, but did not detect a clear effect of landscape level biodiversity (measured as both the amount of semi-natural habitat and the variety of bird, butterfly or bee species in the surroundings) on the outcomes
Exploitation Route The project suggested that policymakers should take a range of factors into consideration: 1) farmer training can affect the delivery of environmental outcomes from agri-environmental schemes; 2) farmers need to be more involved in developing agri-environmental policies; 3) past experience of agri-environment schemes is important to their successful implementation by farmers; 4) training for farmers can instil a more positive and professional attitude towards agri-environment schemes, and allow farmers to become more skilled at putting interventions into effect; 5) it is important that training delivered by professionals with farming experience who can gain the respect of farmers; 6) there is a need to move away from "self service" schemes where farmers are simply left to get on with implementation, but it is also important to retain the role of the farmer in deciding management options.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description FarmCAT fed into the Defra review of Environmental Stewardship, indicating that farmer training is essential in ensuring agri-envronment success. This has also fed into the new agri-environment scheme NELMS, to which FarmCAT researchers have contributed through invitations to meetins
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Training and advice for agri-environmental management 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to Defra

Defra have taken notice of the the need to train farmers in AES
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011