Defra is funding this project to improve our understanding of the ability of current Agri-environment schemes (AES) to respond to climate change.  Climate change and the associated changes in weather are impacting upon agriculture and forestry.  We know that bud burst and bird nesting are now two or three weeks earlier than they were 20 or 30 years ago due to overall warming. But as well as gradual change in mean temperatures, the Met Office is recording more extreme weather events (i.e. heatwaves, cold spells, drought, flooding, storms) which impacts natural and managed environments.

AES provide support for farmers and land managers to deliver environmentally-friendly agricultural practice.  The schemes contain a range of management options to support different aspects of the natural environment and each option comes with a list of prescribed management actions.

In this research, led by CCRI in conjunction with Land Use Consultants and Environment Systems Ltd, there are two distinct objectives.

The first is to review a sample of AES options, which specify dates for required operations.  These will be matched against particular ecological events (e.g.  tree or hedgerow work carried out during tree dormancy and outside nesting periods; grass cutting dates).  A detailed review of literature and relevant studies into the effect of climatic variables (typically temperature, sunshine and rainfall) on the timing of ecological events such as bud burst, the length of the growing season, arrival and departure dates for migrant birds and nesting/hatching dates for breeding birds will reveal the areas of concern. This will be matched against past records and climate projections, to track past and likely future climate trends for each of the key climate variables above. This will reveal areas of existing concern in terms of AES options and also where future clashes may occur.

Secondly, a survey of agreement holders, advisers and stakeholders will be undertaken in order to gather evidence regarding the impact of climate change driven extreme weather events on the ability of agreement holders to adhere to AES prescriptions within the current compliance and operational regime; and their ability to deliver the desired environmental outcomes.  This will be achieved with an online survey followed up with telephone interviews with selected agreement holders, advisers and stakeholders.

The final report, due in March 2020, will highlight:

  • Climate variables where past patterns of climate change have already impacted on the implementation of AES schemes.
  • Stakeholders’ awareness of gradual climate change, its impact on key ecological processes and the implications for their land management practices
  • Stakeholders’ experience of more extreme weather events and their impacts on the implementation of AES option prescriptions.

The project is involves Chris Short (project lead), Julie Urquhart, Phil Staddon, Jasmine Black and Nick Lewis from CCRI along with colleagues in LUC and ESL.

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