Our views on future farming policy

Saddlescombe Farm, West Sussex

The National Trust is the UK’s biggest private landowner and farmer with most of our land farmed, either by ourselves or by over 1,350 agricultural tenants. 

Our ambitions for the land in our care 

By 2025 our ambition is that at least half of our farmland will be nature-friendly, with hedgerows, field margins, ponds, woodland and other habitats allowing plants and animals to thrive. 

By 2030 all of the National Trust’s estate, including tenanted farms, will achieve Net Zero carbon emissions. This includes the planting of 18,000 hectares of woodland across our land over the next 10 years. 

The future of agricultural policy has implications for our ability to deliver these ambitious plans and operate our day-to-day business. Wider than that new policy has the potential to deliver the land management needed to help nature recover and ensure a sustainable future for farming. 

Government agriculture policy planning - context 

The passing of the Agriculture Act marked a momentous milestone since the Bill was first tabled in 2018. Following our departure from the European Union, the Act outlines a future agricultural support system that incentivises farmers and land managers to manage their land to deliver public goods like reduced risk of flooding, improved ecosystems, cleaner water and cleaner air. This is something we and others had been calling for over a decade of European Union Common Agriculture Policy reform. 

Now our policy work continues as we co-design, with Defra and partners, the future Environmental Land Management system, and other related policies. This includes our places being used to test new approaches.  

What are we trying to achieve?  

We believe that the new Environmental Land Management scheme could revolutionise the way farmers and others are supported to deliver a better environment. The scheme will replace all subsidy and agri-environment schemes from 2028. However, we have concerns that the original ambition might be watered down in efforts to deal with the issue of transitioning between the old and new schemes. 

With the longer-term budget and what farmers and land managers will ultimately be paid to do under the future Environmental Land Management scheme still unclear, there is concern that a basic entry-level scheme (such as that outlined by Defra’s proposed Sustainable Farming Incentive) will prevail. This would repeat the mistakes of the past and risks soaking up budget to the detriment of more ambitious schemes, those in which we and our tenants will want to be involved as part of our efforts to restore nature across our places. 

We believe that the new Environmental Land Management scheme must be supported by long-term funding based on an independent assessment of need. Our own research with the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts showed that £2.3bn a year was needed to meet existing environmental targets associated with land management alone. When costs associated with the necessary ambition to deliver the restoration of nature are added the amount needed across Northern Ireland, Wales and England is £2.9bn. 

The scheme also needs to support farmers and other land managers with the provision of good quality advice for farmers, safeguards against the import of low standard food, a complementary approach to improving productivity, and a strong regulatory baseline. 

We’ll continue to engage with government policy to ensure the best possible outcome for the future of sustainable farming in a restored natural environment.