Section 9: Agri-Environment-Climate Scheme
183. The Agri-Environment-Climate Scheme will support positive environmental actions which go beyond minimum national standards to maintain and enhance Scotland's rich and varied natural environment.
184. The scheme will play an important part in helping the Scottish Government's strategies for complying with a number of national and international obligations (such as the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, Flood Directive and the Water Framework Directive).
185. Land managers will be able to apply for annual recurrent (management) and capital projects for a wide range of environmental purposes. The rules and guidance governing these projects are being devised to ensure they meet environmental objectives, are verifiable in terms of audit and inspection, and have a greater customer focus.
The Agri-Environment-Climate Scheme will use the following articles of the RDR
Article 18 - Investments in physical assets
Article 29 - Agri-environment-climate
Article 30 - Organic farming
Article 36 - Co-operation
186. The RDR requires that the SRDP must contain an agri-environment-climate measure. The basic provisions of the scheme are set out in article 29 of the regulation.
187. An agri-environment-climate measure was given a high priority for investment among responses to the stage 1 consultation. Responses also emphasised the need for a simpler, streamlined, more accessible and flexible scheme.
188. An increasing number of studies confirm the effectiveness of agri-environment measures in addressing public objectives for water quality, climate change & biodiversity.
189. The scheme will contribute the following objectives and its resources will be targeted accordingly:
- Implementing of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives
- Achieving favourable conservation status for designated nature conservation sites
- Controlling the spread of introduced non-native plants and animals
- Implementing the EU Water Framework Directive, the Nitrates Directive and the Groundwater Directive
- Meeting Scottish Government's targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- Increasing carbon sequestration by natural systems
- The Scottish Government's Land Use Strategy Action Plan
- The aims of the European Landscape Convention
190. In the new programme we aim to explain more clearly the desired outcomes of each individual management option, so that participants will have a clear picture of what they are working to achieve. It is also important, we believe, that applicants should understand the significance of the various 'options' with reference to public policy objectives.
191. Our intention is that all the management options offered should have a robust evidence base, justifying the action they support.
192. The allocation for the scheme is proposed as £355 million, or approximately 27% of the future budget. This, in addition to the spend on LFASS (which delivers some environmental benefits, particularly through those farms operating in the most remote areas) and elements of forestry spend, represent a significant investment in order to address our full range of obligations in this area. We will also secure additional benefits through investments we make via improved targeting and advice/support, and a focus on co-operative action to secure landscape scale improvements to the natural environment. We therefore expect to see an increase in the benefits secured through the investments we make in comparison to the current programme.
Scope & approach
193. Some key aspects of the proposed scheme are set out below. A full list of all of the agri-environment-climate operations currently under consideration is included in annex C.
194. Payment rates for the annual recurrent (management) operations will be based on the cost incurred and the income foregone. Capital payments for items such as fencing will generally be paid for on the basis of standard costs.
195. Historic Sites & Landscape - It is proposed that the objectives of protecting and managing scheduled ancient monuments, and contributing to managed landscapes will be supported within the scope of the agri-environment scheme.
196. Organics - Funding will be available for the conversion and maintenance of organic farming, within the Agri-Environment-Climate Scheme. There will be some interaction with the Greening element of DP for organics farmers, with a lump sum reduction potentially having to be made to the maintenance element depending on final decisions in Europe.
197. Crofting - Crofters and small farms will be able to access funding for those agri-environment-climate operations which are relevant for their area.
Integrated land management
198. The principle of integrated land management is fundamental to the Land Use Strategy (LUS), which lays out how the Scottish Government and our public sector partners will take an integrated approach to land based investments to ensure that:
- Land based businesses work with nature to contribute more to Scotland's prosperity;
- Scotland's natural resources are managed responsibly to deliver more benefits to Scotland's people and environment;
- Urban and rural communities are better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use.
199. Further information about the Land Use Strategy can be found at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/Countryside/Landusestrategy
200. In order to address the obligations we have placed on ourselves and other public bodies, farmers, and land managers we are providing an enhanced Advisory Service which will be appropriately targeted and delivered. This will assist farmers and land managers in developing proposals that take full account of the range of priorities that could be delivered on their land in order to deliver the best outcomes.
201. In addition we are putting in place an assessment process that will provide expert scrutiny of applications in order to ensure the potential for the delivery of multiple benefits is considered. Finally, we will have a more targeted and evidence based approach to future investments, with delivery partners working together to assist this process.
202. Options within the Agri-Environment-Climate Scheme will be targeted based on the following two-stage approach:
Stage 1 - The availability of each option will be restricted to the target area where it will deliver its intended outcome most effectively. To allow flexibility, applications outwith target areas will still be considered where there is a strong justification e.g. where endorsed by the relevant Scotland's Environmental and Rural Services (SEARS) agency.
Stage 2 - Applications will be scored against targeting criteria in order to assess the benefit delivered by individual proposals, taking into account site-specific factors. These targeting criteria will be included within the scoring system.
For some options, which are broadly relevant across Scotland (e.g. support for organic farming), geographical targeting will not be necessary and targeting will be delivered through stage two assessment alone.
203. We are currently trialling a methodology for defining target maps for options under the Agri-Environment-Climate Scheme. A Biodiversity Targeting Working Group is developing recommendations for the target areas in which each agri-environment-climate option should be available. This is to deliver the greatest benefit to biodiversity, based on the ranges of selected species and habitats from the Scottish Biodiversity List, prioritised on the basis of objective criteria.
204. The Centres of Expertise for Climate Change (ClimateXChange) and Water Quality are considering which options should be targeted from climate change and water quality perspectives. Target areas for these options will be based on the locations of SEPA's priority water catchments and maps of soil carbon. For options which deliver multiple benefits, the outputs from each of these three projects will be combined in order to produce a single target map for each option. For some options, additional objectives such as flood risk management, landscape and historic environment will also be considered.
205. It will be essential to present information on targeting to applicants in a straightforward way. We are exploring the feasibility of including a prompt on the Agri-Environment-Climate Scheme webpage asking applicants to enter details of their location. The website would then look-up a targeting database in order to present the applicant with a list of options available at their location. This would be implemented at either the holding or parish scale.
206. The delivery arrangements for targeting will be flexible in order to allow for the updating of targeting maps when necessary to reflect changing policy priorities.
207. Support will be available to land managers for the purpose of co-ordinating their activity at a landscape or ecosystem scale - for example to improve the connections between isolated wildlife habitats, or co-ordinate the management of diffuse pollution or flood water within a catchment. Payments will be made either to groups of farmers or to organisations for the purpose of facilitating the process in a specific area as set out in section 11.
How the application process will work
208. Applications will be made through the process outlined in section 5, linked to the common land based application form for the SRDP. They will set out the operations ('options') to be undertaken.
209. Case officers will make an initial assessment of a proposal, and if necessary arrange a site visit to discuss it and ensure the applicant is aware of the management requirements and the commitment involved.
210. All of the scheme literature is to be reviewed to improve the customer focus, which will include improved contracts, which shall be legally binding documents. These can include bespoke management requirements to achieve particular ecological objectives and will be the document against which inspections are checked against.
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