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Pioneering a natural capital approach to land management

GSC Grays are working with Sir Edward Milbank and farmers from Barningham Estate on a pioneering project to help shape the design of the new Environmental Land Management scheme.

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The use of Natural Capital Accounting to inform a landscape-scale review of the environmental management on the Estate is a new approach to land management planning.

Challenge

An historic commitment to conservation

Barningham Estate has a long and rich history of conservation, begun by Sir Anthony Milbank (co-founder of the Moorland Association and RSPB council member) and continued today by his son Sir Edward Milbank. The result of their pioneering work is a landscape that is exceptionally diverse.

The Estate spans the border of County Durham and North Yorkshire – reaching from open moorland with blanket bog habitats and miles of dry stone walls, through rough pasture and a black grouse lek, to hay meadows, wetlands and SSSI ancient woodland. There are over 140 species of bird and 24 ‘red list’ protected species on the Estate.

The farm businesses on the Estate range from tenanted upland sheep farms to in-hand arable land that is contract farmed. Each farm has a different business model and different objectives for the coming years, and each holding or common has its own stewardship agreement – resulting in a total of 10 different environmental and countryside stewardship agreements across the Estate. It is this mix of farm types, coupled with a clear commitment to conservation, that make the Estate an ideal test-bed for new ideas about land management and environmental support.

Solution

Working towards landscape-scale management

In 2019 Sir Edward asked GSC Grays to draw up an application for the ELM Test and Trials programme on behalf of the Estate and its tenant farmers. After a long and competitive application process the ‘Barningham Farmers Group’ successfully secured a contract with DEFRA at the start of 2020 to deliver a year-long ELM test project, facilitated by Holly Story (Senior Environmental Management Consultant at GSC Grays).

The aim of the project is to trial a new, collaborative way of planning and prioritising environmental management – one that doesn’t stop at the farm gate. In the past, the number of stewardship agreements and Natural England’s somewhat disjointed management of those schemes, has meant that in many cases the farmland and upland habitats across the Estate have been managed independently, on a farm-by-farm basis. The ELM test project will explore the potential benefits of a landscape-scale approach to environmental management, both for farmers and for the environment.

Outcome

Informing future policy

The first step in the project was to produce a set of natural capital accounts for the project area. This work, undertaken in partnership with AECOM, is now almost complete. The accounts will provide a comprehensive and quantified register of the natural ‘assets’ on the Estate and the value of the ecosystems services they deliver. This will help the group to identify those parts of the landscape, or particular ecosystem services, that are flourishing, and those which have the greatest potential for improvement. The recommendations drawn from the accounts will be taken back to the group for discussion, and will go on to form the basis of an Estate-wide land management plan.

The use of Natural Capital Accounting to inform a landscape-scale review of the environmental management on the Estate is a new approach to land management planning.  By planning and working as a group, the hope is that in future the farmers’ approach to conservation will be more effective and efficient, both for their businesses and for wildlife on the Estate.

The success of the project, and the experience of the farmers participating in it, will be reviewed when the project closes at the end of 2020. The project findings will be fed back to DEFRA to help to inform the design of the ELM scheme pilots, which are due to launch in 2021.

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