SRA Annual Report 2018-19: Environmental Land Management Innovation (W2 and W5)
In addition to the initiatives outlined under Looking into the future, in June 2018 the SRA Board agreed to be part of developing a new Environmental Land Management scheme in the Somerset Levels. The Board also agreed to be involved in trialling how payments for land management on the Levels could be combined with flood risk management, agricultural production and the delivery of improvements for nature.
Payments to farmers and landowners have been under review as part of the Government’s preparations for Brexit. Through EU-based subsidies, the floodplains of the Somerset Levels and Moors (7,531 hectares) currently get over £3.7m of public funding every year. A further £2.5m is paid out every year to the hillier land in between the various moors. Some wetter floodplain areas can receive up to £650 per hectare annually. The farmed wetland of the Levels is very dependent on public payments. They underpin the Levels’ special character and rural economy. There are currently 296 agri-environment farm agreements, of which 250 stop in 2022.
The Levels are very vulnerable to reductions. The Government has been stressing that future Environmental Land Management payments should be linked to the delivery of “public goods” that result in a cleaner, greener and healthier countryside. In the Levels, there is likely to be particular emphasis on flood risk management and wildlife.
2 A Vision for the Somerset Levels and Moors Vision in 2030
This Vision was agreed by the Somerset Levels and Moors Task Force during the floods of 2014. It helped to shape Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan, which is now overseen by Somerset Rivers Authority.
The Vision’s headline statement was: “We see the Somerset Levels and Moors in 2030 as a thriving, nature-rich wetland landscape, with grassland farming taking place on the majority of the land. The impact of extreme weather events is being reduced by land and water management in both the upper catchments and the flood plain and by greater community resilience.”
The SRA Board agreed it made sense for the Somerset Levels to seek to become a pilot area, so it could try to shape its own distinctive future, in much the same way as Somerset Rivers Authority has allowed the whole of Somerset to create its own unique and local ways of tackling flooding.