Researchers at the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), University of Gloucestershire, have explored the potential of long-term agreements (30 years+) for achieving landscape recovery in lowland productive areas, including how a funding approach which blends both public and private funding may work. This research was funded by Defra’s Test and Trials programme in support of the upcoming Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes.
The CCRI research team, in collaboration with Strutt & Parker, have worked closely with both land managers and other interested parties, including environmental organisations, land agents and potential providers of private financing, such as water companies.
Through a series of workshops and interviews, the researchers explored the receptiveness and capacities of these participants to take part in a long-term agreement. These sessions were also used to co-design a ‘head of terms’ long-term agreement template, which provides an in-depth overview of the clauses that would need to be included in such an agreement and explores which would be most palatable to land managers and other involved parties.
The findings suggest that long-term agreements would have limited uptake in agriculturally productive areas at present. This is due to several barriers that make it difficult for both land managers and private funders to see them as feasible or attractive. Firstly, 30 years is a long time. Planning over such a long timeframe is challenging for land managers, particularly where succession is likely to occur, where they have short-term tenancies, or where they are concerned about the effects of climate change and other factors, on how they will manage their land in the future. Meanwhile, the shorter-term nature of the funding cycles that many private organisations such as water companies operate on, makes it difficult for these entities to commit to agreements that exceed these cycles.
Both land managers and stakeholders did, however, recognise that these agreements could offer a real opportunity to put in place ambitious measures, thus leading to permanent recovery and restoration of landscapes.
‘We have found that whilst long-term agreements could in principle offer great potential for recovering landscapes, there are several challenges which need addressing before they are likely to have widespread uptake. For example, the risks associated with establishing formal collaborations between multiple land managers need overcoming: what happens, say, if one member of the group fails to fulfil their obligations, and how would it be best to distribute payments fairly across the group?’Lucy Barkley, Project Officer
Factors that appear to increase potential uptake of long-term agreements include appropriate payment levels, with regular monitoring and evaluation checkpoints to allow for modifications, discharges, additions to agreements, and adjustments to funding rates as appropriate. In addition, the notion that these agreements would be bespoke to fit unique contexts was also attractive; however, there were ongoing concerns about the resulting bureaucracy and complexity of drafting these agreements and the associated costs of getting them set up. Participants were also concerned about tax implications; for example, where entering a landscape recovery agreement results in their land no longer being classed as ‘agricultural’, a status which comes with some tax relief.
‘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.’Dr Charlotte Chivers, Project Lead
Read the final report and head of terms agreement template. The team hope that these outputs 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.
Research team: Lucy Barkley, Charlotte Chivers, Chris Short (CCRI), Hannah Bloxham (Strutt & Parker)
Contact: Lucy Barkley, email@example.com