Giving farmers control is key to any future agri-environment scheme, according to leading research charity Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

The GWCT launched its latest policy document, Farming through Brexit: a vision for the future with a rallying cry about the important role farmers have, not just in feeding a growing nation, but also in supporting a complex environment.

GWCT research already informs many of the agri-environment scheme (AES) options available to farmers and their latest proposals include three key areas: a voluntary Foundation Scheme, a Universally Accessible Scheme, offering long and short-term options to support species and biodiversity, and a new Farmer Cluster Scheme, rewarding landscape and catchment scale benefits to soil, water and wildlife.

“With 72% of the UK managed for agriculture, the decisions we make for the future of farming will have a significant impact throughout the country,” stated GWCT head of policy, Dr Alastair Leake.

“We feel this is a great opportunity for the government to deliver a simple, voluntary scheme with a light regulatory touch. Only then, can we get the widest possible participation from farmers and, in turn, ‘better, bigger, more and joined’ outcomes for nature, the environment and society.”

Underpinning the GWCT’s proposals are the following principles:

  • As a minimum, all the funding that currently supports agriculture and the environment should be retained.
  • Improving environmental outcomes should be at the heart of the schemes. Those that give public benefit should be valued and supported.
  • Highest level of funding for large scale, collaborative or long-term approaches.
  • The scheme should be farmer-led, with a bottom-up approach to maximise engagement.
  • Increased support for Less Favoured Areas.
  • Maintenance of a Rural Development/Capital Grants pot of money.
  • Light touch regulation, with a single independent Annual Review (not managed by a government body).
  • Builds on best practice and existing initiatives.

The proposal fits alongside many of the intentions outlined by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, in the government’s 25-year plan. The GWCT Allerton Project, which celebrated its own 25-year anniversary in 2017, has shown the relationship between farming practice and vital public benefits such as water quality and soil health. The project is also looking closely at innovative ways to get closer to England’s tree-planting target, including agro-forestry (farming and growing trees at the same time) and bio-energy planting schemes.

GWCT press and publications manager, James Swyer, said: “The next 25 years will be crucial for our environment. We have the chance to create a farming policy that engages with farmers, giving them greater flexibility, more recognition for results and greater environmental gain.”

The policy document is available at and will soon be followed by similar documents for Scotland and Wales.