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Agri-Environment Schemes in Scotland: A Survey of Participants and Non-Participants

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Chapter 3 Conclusions

3.1 The substantial numbers of respondents in this survey provide a robust dataset upon which clear findings and indications can be drawn. This concluding chapter provides an overview of the data by comparing and contrasting participants in the Rural Stewardship Scheme and Countryside Premium Scheme with non-participants. RSS and CPS participants have shown a predominant similarity in the survey responses, but where differences occur between them, these will be commented upon. The results from the Organic Aid Scheme participants were generally different to RSS and CPS, and will be mainly addressed separately.

Demographics

Farm size

3.2 Generally, participant farmers had larger farms than non-participants. An average participant farm was almost double that of an average non-participant. However, RSS was accommodating more smaller farms than the earlier CPS. OAS farms were skewed towards the larger farms, with 25% of participants farming holdings of over 500 hectares.

Farm type

3.3 Farm type was self-categorised. Some variations between schemes may in part be due to variations in the relative timing of the schemes. RSS had a higher number of arable farms, but lower numbers of sheep farms. This may be due to the larger number of arable options in the RSS compared to CPS and inclusion in its ranking system of points for arable-based options given the biodiversity opportunities offered. OAS is dominated by larger sheep farms, which reflects the OAS inclusion of payments for the conversion of rough grazing.

Farmer age

3.4 There is no clear pattern of age characterisation of RSS and CPS participants relative to non-participants, although there was some evidence indicating a concentration of participants in the 41-50 age range. OAS participants had the most common age category of 55-59, but younger farmers (31-40) are also well represented. Some caution should be considered with these mid-range ages, but older (60 and over) are clearly uncommon due at least in part to the schemes' five-year agreement requirement.

Organisation membership

3.5 RSS and CPS participants had a higher likelihood of membership of organisations with a land management interest, particularly Historic Scotland. However, numbers were very small. OAS participants were less likely to be members of any land management organisation (with the exception of FWAG) than even non-participants. The larger size of OAS farms may be a factor in this.

Qualitative responses

Reasons for joining

3.6 RSS and CPS participants shared views of the respective importance of reasons for joining, dominated by environmental factors, including both increasing the variety of biodiversity and improving the landscape, as well as the financial benefits of annual and capital payments. Although there was some limited evidence of positive peer influence, knowledge of other and successful participants was not reported to have been an important factor in the farmer's decision to join a scheme.

3.7 In contrast to RSS and CPS, OAS participants did not attribute the same high levels of importance to environmental factors, but the financial importance of the scheme was clearly very high. A high proportion of OAS participants did not intend to reapply to the scheme because of insufficient payments. This would have to be considered further in the light of subsequent changes made to the OAS during 2004.

Reasons for not joining

3.8 There is not as strong a pattern of importance attributed to annual and capital payments for not joining a scheme as might have been expected. Nor was much importance attributed to negative peer influence, knowing people who had found a scheme to be unsuccessful. However, other indications broadly reflect concerns with time, bureaucracy and interference. Other reasons which were articulated included adverse economic impacts on the farming system, although this may be lessened subsequent to the changes in CAP payment mechanisms; the desire to manage the environment without a scheme; age of farmer (nearing retirement); the small size of holding; and tenure status.

Scheme impacts on holding

3.9 All scheme participants, including OAS ones, showed consistent and high levels of satisfaction with the payments to cover the costs involved. This is, however, counteracted by comments indicating clear concerns that annual and capital costs were not adequately matched by the scheme payments. Participants, particularly those in the CPS, consider that they manage their holdings in a more environmentally sensitive way. All participants were generally pleased to have joined their scheme. There was, however. no clear indication that participation made the management of the farm easier and some concerns from RSS and CPS about the lack of flexibility of the scheme prescriptions.

3.10 How a holding would be managed differently if no longer constrained and rewarded by a scheme was investigated to explore the issue of additionality - in this context, the specific delivery of environmental benefits through management practices which would not have been carried out if the holding was outside of the scheme. To a limited extent this was addressed by an assessment of how management would change on individual farms if no longer in a scheme. Farming intensity was measured by perceived levels of stocking and cropping. OAS participants clearly indicated that farming intensity would increase, in contrast to the more moderate levels of expected change indicated by RSS and CPS participants. RSS and CPS participants indicated a decrease in conservation land management, particularly of field boundary maintenance, but a consistent and high proportion indicated no change to these general activities. This combination might suggest more limited economic additionality in the RSS and CPS.

3.11 Of additional and particular significance were the perceived impacts of the scheme(s) amongst non-participants. There was a general recognition that they would expect to manage their holdings in a more environmentally sensitive way, but there were clear indications that most think the schemes have hidden costs, and were unsure whether the payments would cover costs, despite the actual experiences of participants. This antipathy was further supported by concerns about general anticipations of external interference and bureaucracy.

Environmental impacts of schemes

3.12 RSS and CPS participants showed a general and strong consistency of agreement that there had been an increase in biodiversity, that the appearance of the landscape had been positively improved and that the schemes had increased their environmental knowledge. A very high number of both scheme participants added further comment indicating an increase in specific species, generally high profile and easily recognisable vertebrates, mainly songbirds and raptors. Increases in weed species were also cited, but to a much lesser extent.

3.13 OAS participants also indicated increased biodiversity and that participation had increased their environmental knowledge. Comment on specific species was similar in nature to RSS and CPS participants but with greater concern for an increase in undesirable weed species.

3.14 On a more general note, participants across all three schemes strongly supported the ethos that conservation management should be an integral part of farming, it is not detrimental to this activity and that schemes raise its awareness. Additionally, they thought that farmers should take more responsibility for the environment. These views were mirrored by non-participants, which may provide a sound and positive basis for future development.

Scheme management

3.15 RSS and CPS participants viewed the schemes as easy to implement, with a balanced view of the amount and complexity of paperwork involved and they consider that the schemes are run efficiently.

3.16 The perceptions of non-participants contrast with this, showing a tendency to view the schemes as not easy to implement, with too much and complex paperwork. Therefore, it can be observed that the reality of the schemes is considerably less adverse than non-participants' perceptions, pointing to a possible need to better inform potential applicants.

3.17 As with RSS and CPS, OAS participants thought that government runs the scheme efficiently, but held a more divergent view on ease of implementation and expressed clear dissatisfaction with the amount and complexity of paperwork. Comments from OAS participants indicated the probable contradictions that are evident, specifically, that there may be a blurring in perception of the OAS-associated paperwork and those of other organic assurance schemes' administration.