Expert evidence helps shape the development of new environmental land management schemes

Over 45 experts from nine research organisations have reviewed and rated the effects of different land management actions in a series of reports published by the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

 ... to provide an expert-led, rapid, qualitative assessment of the likely impact of land management interventions potentially proposed for inclusion in Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, on selected Ecosystem Services (ES) ..."


The evidence is being used to inform new environmental land management (ELM) schemes in England, which fund farmers and land managers to deliver climate and environmental benefits alongside food production, replacing the payments made under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The three ELM schemes are the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Countryside Stewardship and Landscape Recovery. All three are voluntary, and farmers can choose actions that suit their specific setting. The reports are an important element of the broad evidence base Defra have built to support the development and roll out of these schemes ensuring they take an evidence-based approach.

Quote from Defra in a yellow box

What we did

The project assessed more than 700 land-management actions for their impact on more than 30 ecosystem services – benefits provided to us by the natural environment, ranging from habitat creation to improving air quality, water quality and soil health, preventing floods and drought, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. They also include providing access to green space and supporting our cultural heritage. Trade-offs between ecosystem services and unintended disbenefits were also considered as well as when the spatial placement of an action is absolutely critical to its success.

Infographic of the ten report themes


The evidence, made up of ten expert reports, all of which have been subject to peer review, references over 2,400 published studies. The reports highlight key actions which are critical to reverse environmental degradation by individual service theme. These including planting hedgerows, creating flower-rich and species-rich grassland, and using very low nutrient and herbicide inputs on permanent grassland. Another list suggests actions with the most benefits across multiple services. 

The team have recommended that Defra reviews and update the work on an ongoing basis to ensure they are always using the best available evidence for the ELM schemes. This work is just part of the evidence base being used by Defra in designing the ELM schemes. 

Review included a wide range of potential land-management actions and services:

Detailed infographic showing the review themes and ecosystem services covered by each


More background

As an EU member state, the UK adhered to the CAP policy of provide financial support to farmers. Following our exit from the EU, devolution has resulted in a divergence of approaches to replace these payments. In England, Defra took the decision for England to phase out CAP payments in favour of Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes in which farmers are paid for providing environmental, cultural and animal welfare improvements.

The three levels of ELM scheme to reward environmental land management are: 

•    The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), which pays farmers to manage their land in an environmentally sustainable way; 
•    Countryside Stewardship, which will pay for more targeted actions related to specific locations, features and habitats.
•    Landscape Recovery, which supports landscape and ecosystem recovery through long-term projects, such as peatland and salt marsh restoration.

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A graphic of several front covers of this set of reports

What is available and where?

All the project outputs are available from the Defra Science and Research Projects website under project code AQ0858 at this link.

There is an Executive Summary Report and a report on the overall Integrated Assessment; and there are 10 thematic evidence review reports.

The scoring matrix is available in 2 formats: a simple [but huge] spreadsheet of rows and columns. The 741 actions are the rows, the ecosystem and cultural services and indicators are the columns. Assessment scores make up the matrix.

This same scoring data is also available in a  simple column csv format more suitable for input into other software.

The list of approximately 2400 references (cited across the 10 evidence reports) is also available as a separate spreadsheet.



Graphic showing circles of themes, services and indicators


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About the team

The production of the reports was led by Professor Bridget Emmett and her team from the UKCEH and involved experts from nine other organisations: British Trust for Ornithology, ADAS, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Bangor University, Birnie Consultancy, Forest Research, the Freshwater Habitats Trust, CCRI/University of Gloucestershire and the Institute for European Environmental Policy.

Array of the project team logos


The team approach, involving many experts from different organisations, has been critical to ensure Defra have received a broad consensus from the scientific community as to the weight of evidence for the management actions they are considering for the ELM schemes. - Professor Bridget Emmett, project lead (UKCEH)

Access reports and assessment data