Farming News - EFG expands to cover 2.9% of England's farmed area

EFG expands to cover 2.9% of England's farmed area

-  *New farmer-led cooperatives are a blueprint for hitting net zero, reversing England’s biodiversity decline and cleaning up our rivers *
-  * Blend of public and private investment in landscape scale conservation projects to fill the £2billion gap left when farm subsidies end in 2027 *
-  * Partnering with the UK’s leading wildlife research charity GWCT and its subsidiary Natural Capital Advisory (NCA) ensures farmers, investors and the public obtain the highest level of assurance *

 ## The Environmental Farmers Group (EFG) ## (,  ## Peakland Environmental Farmers (PEF) ## ( and  ## Swaledale & Wensleydale Environmental Farmers (SWEF) ## ( now represent 469 land managers with three shared objectives of carbon neutrality, biodiversity recovery and cleaner rivers.

Since it was launched last year by farmers in Hampshire and Wiltshire, the original EFG has undergone a rapid expansion. More groups or ‘clusters’ of farmers in Northants and Northern Lincs have joined and it is set to expand west to Dorset, Somerset and Devon, south to the Isle of Wight and east to West Sussex. A sister environmental cooperative Peakland Environmental Farmers has been launched in Derbyshire and another, Swaledale & Wensleydale Environmental Farmers, is in the process of being established in Yorkshire.

These farmer-led organisations offer a high level of assurance to investors through professional support and commercial expertise provided by Natural Capital Advisory and their partnership with the UK’s leading ecological research charity the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

 * GWCT chief exec Teresa Dent CBE * , who helped establish the groups said: “These new cooperatives are mobilising the sector to achieve nature recovery on the 72% of England which is farmed. Though many nature reserves are wonderful places, it will not be possible to reverse wildlife decline on those alone, as they cover only 8%.

"By proving it is possible to combine profitable agriculture with thriving biodiversity on a grand scale, this model can show that farmers are not the problem, but the essential solution to hitting the Government’s environmental targets. As the 2030 deadline for delivery fast approaches, it’s more important than ever to seize the opportunity of investing in the EFGs.”

The UK agricultural sector stands to lose £2billion in annual payments when the Basic Payment Scheme ends in 2027 and the groups aim to support farming communities to meet and beat government environmental targets through delivering co-ordinated landscape scale conservation projects, partly incentivised and funded through natural capital markets. Government regulated markets such as Biodiversity Net Gain and Nutrient Neutrality are already providing opportunities to deliver such environmental change and it is now clearer how voluntary nature markets will provide wider opportunities.

 * EFG chair and Wiltshire arable farmer Rob Shepherd said * : “The EFG has already agreed nutrient mitigation projects with developers and we are currently working with NCA in four catchments to deliver over 15 nutrient trades, and 9 Biodiversity Net Gain trades worth around £27m in environmental improvements.

"Our equalisation structure means all farmers in the group benefit every time we make a trade. We are currently creating catchment-wide conservation plans, which will identify landscape-scale habitat enhancement. The sheer scale of EFG means there are plenty of opportunities for buyers and investors to support a wide range of exciting initiatives that will make a real difference.”

 * Proven track record on wildlife recovery *

Many of the lead farmers involved are environmental pioneers with an impressive track record of success.  * EFG board member Hallam Mills  * farms in the Lower Avon Valley where a farmer cluster, advised and supported by GWCT ecologists, has successfully reversed the decline of breeding lapwing and doubled the number of breeding pairs from 61 to 122. He is also one of several private land managers facilitating the reintroduction of water voles to the Hampshire Avon chalk stream.

He said: “The key to successful conservation is neighbouring farmers collaborating to actively manage parts of their farms for nature. By working together, we can create and connect new habitats on a landscape scale. That is where the EFG approach is unique. There’s potential to deliver real value for money for both the private and public sector through farmers’ pooling knowledge, expertise and equipment backed by strong motivation to improve their land holding for future generations.

"Individual clusters within the group retain autonomy and connect to EFG through their own local vision, which creates an authentic bond and contributes more to the larger cooperative. It’s key that the EFG is run by farmers but our partnership with GWCT and NCA is also essential. In a rapidly evolving sector, their invaluable advice, unparalleled understanding of both farmland conservation and natural capital markets and trusted reputation gives confidence to farmers, clients, and the wider public.”

 * Farmer-led clean water projects *

The Wyle Farmer Cluster in Wiltshire has developed its own water quality testing complete with a fully equipped lab in a disused stable and they are helping roll out reliable, systematic river sampling to other clusters within the EFG. With the right level of investment, EFG has the potential to replicate such farmer-led clean water projects across multiple catchments and ultimately counties.

Joe Edwards is on the steering group of the EFG’s Test & Itchen cell, and manages the Middleton Estate, which has restored its three-mile stretch of the world-famous river Test. He said: “We set out to recover the river combining a wide range of measures. The result was when we tested the water for 300 chemicals, it showed it’s cleaner when it leaves Middleton than when it enters. There are many farmers on the Test and other rivers who are interested in implementing similar management and I believe the EFG’s conservation plan, led by GWCT Chief Exec Teresa Dent, has the potential to roll this out across the county and beyond.”

 * Biodiversity and carbon audits *

More than 45 EFG farmers have already commissioned NCA to undertake ecological baseline assessments of the levels of biodiversity, and potential nutrient and sediment reduction in order to capitalise on offset trades. In addition, carbon auditing is being undertaken by several local accountant firms, volunteering their time, to ascertain the potential for carbon emissions reductions.

 * NCA MD Christopher B Sparrow  * said: “NCA brokers all trades for EFG, which is good both for investors who only need to deal with one point of contact and farmers who don’t need to wade through the complexity of natural capital markets. Many of the trade agreements are long term and have capacity to deliver multiple public goods simultaneously, which means it’s vital to guarantee verified auditing and monitoring in line with national and international environmental standards. NCA offers the highest level of assurance and a fair deal for all sides in an emerging marketplace.”