NFFN Cymru: Habitat Wales Scheme fails to back nature-friendly farming

Policy & Views
Wales Habitat Scheme

The new Habitat Wales Scheme (HWS) will slash the amount of financial support farmers receive for environmental work and represents a huge step backwards in the level of backing for sustainable food production, nature and the climate.

The stopgap scheme is supposed to support farmers in 2024 until the new Sustainable Farm Scheme (SFS) payments begin in 2025, but we’re shocked to find that farmers across Wales are looking at massive reductions in payments of between 47% and more than 90% under the HWS compared to the previous Glastir agri-environment scheme, which is being scrapped along with organic support payments.

Current Glastir contract holders have had to adjust their business plans accordingly, with environmental support payments forming an essential component of farm business viability. Farmers who have done the most for nature are being penalised and the reduction in payments means that some farmers may not even be able to continue working on their land.

The HWS will have the opposite effect of the Welsh Government’s pledges to support agriculture to bring about a greener future by giving little incentive to farm in a more environmentally friendly way. This also raises concerns about what is to come when the SFS is introduced.

NFFN Cymru steering group chair Hywel Morgan said:

“I had been worried that Glastir might be scrapped without anything in place so I’m glad there is an interim scheme open to all, but the payment rate is not encouraging or supportive of nature-friendly farming. £69 per hectare is an insult to nature.

“I’m looking at a fair drop from around £5,000 in payments to around £1,800, while organic farmers are facing a double blow with the end of both organic and Glastir payments. Some farmers who have been organic for years are looking at allowing intensive dairy farming and fertiliser use on their land just to get income in.

“My biggest concern is going forward to the Sustainable Farming Scheme. If this is the rate of funding, we are not going to get much uptake. I would like to think this is a one-off blip and the SFS will reward is better for nature and biodiversity recovery.

Research finds the average reduction in support is 76%

The NFFN, in partnership with the Soil Association and other farming organisations, has surveyed 20 farmers across Wales to find out how they will be impacted by the HWS. The farmers were looking at reductions in support of between 47% and 96% in the best and worst-case scenarios respectively, with an average loss of 76%.

Farmers said they would potentially look at intensifying production to make up the shortfall, renting out land to neighbours farming more intensively, selling off cattle, planting trees on their land and laying off members of staff.

This is exactly the opposite of the direction agriculture in Wales needs to be heading in for a sustainable future. We’re worried that the loss of a whole-farm organic scheme will lead to farms de-certifying.

While we acknowledge the positives of having a scheme available to support all farmers for 12 months until SFS begins, this does not outweigh our major concerns about the scheme itself.

We’re alarmed at plans to cap payments so only the first 200 hectares of habitat land receive 100% of the payment rate, with this falling to 50% for between 200 and 400 hectares and 10% for areas bigger than that. We’re concerned about how this will affect farms with large areas of habitat in Wales, particularly upland ones.

There are also worries about low uptake for HWS and questions over the accuracy of the habitat maps which have been drawn up for the scheme.

NFFN Cymru steering group member Tony Davies, who farms at Henfron Farm at Rhayader in Powys, said:

“When the Welsh Government announced the demise of the Glastir and Organics schemes and the details of the HWS, I was extremely shocked. I will have to comply with almost all of my current Gastir management requirements but will only receive 30% of the Glastir payment.

“My hay meadow reversion fields will have a 97% cut in payment per hectare, while some of the woodlands I have planted under various schemes over the past 20 years are not even eligible.

“Many sheep farmers will find it difficult to join the scheme as the wintering costs will be more than the payment.

“These drastic cuts to the environmental schemes do not correspond with the claims the Welsh Government makes about restoring nature and fighting climate change.”

Gethin Owen, who farms at Abergele in North Wales, said:

“The HWS now gives me no incentive to manage my habitat grassland in a low or zero-input way or to grow cereals due to the increased costs of cultivation. I would be financially better off renting out land to my intensive dairy farming neighbour. This discourages the adoption of more sustainable farming methods.”

NFFN Cymru manager Rhys Evans said:

“This is a kick in the teeth for farmers who have been undertaking long-term habitat management and positive environmental work.

“Nature-friendly farming has so much to offer – providing healthy, safe food whilst looking after biodiversity, tackling climate change, reducing flooding and improving water quality.

“Based on the HWS’ low payment rates and lack of ambition, we are now worried about the future SFS, which needs to appropriately value these vital public services.

“Farmers are facing tough decisions and might have to undertake drastic measures. This is at odds with the Welsh Government’s own Sustainable Farming Scheme principle to keep farmers on the land.”

Finding solutions

We suggest one partial solution to these problems could be to extend current Glastir contracts until 2025 when the SFS begins and offer the HWS payments to new entrants who have not previously been in agri-environment schemes.

We also call for organic support payments to be maintained, or otherwise, the Welsh Government risks losing the support of the very farmers who are leading the way in helping to deliver Wales’ nature and climate targets.

The Welsh Government’s public consultation on SFS is expected to open in mid-December and we encourage our members to have their say.