Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is seeking views on the proposed 'Farming for Nature Package' element of its Future Agricultural Policy proposals, which are up for public consultation.

The consultation closes on Tuesday, February 15.

Speaking about the proposals, agriculture and environment minister Edwin Poots said:

“The environmental challenges that need to be tackled in Northern Ireland are substantial. There are, however, significant opportunities for farmers and land managers to make vital positive contributions to delivering positive environmental outcomes moving forward, and to be properly recognised by society for doing so.

“I have proposed a Farming for Nature Package that could be used to support farmers across all land types to make substantial contributions to environmental improvements and sustainability, while continuing to pursue increased productivity and improved resilience within an effective functioning supply chain.”

The following principles are proposed in the development of a Farming for Nature Package:

  • Schemes that are scalable and strategically focussed in terms of their objectives, delivering environmental outcomes at a landscape scale, recognising ecological connectivity;
  • Environmental payments will, as far as possible, seek to recognise and reward the public goods provided by farmers and land managers;
  • A move to outcome based schemes, designed to be delivered by farmers using the knowledge and expertise that they have acquired to achieve the desired outcomes. However, activity based prescription actions may still have a place in future scheme design;
  • Schemes could be incentivised to encourage participants to work collaboratively, with assistance from facilitators and advisers;
  • Finally, that robust monitoring and evaluation of scheme performance will be essential to ensure that the desired outcomes are being achieved.

“It is proposed that the Farming for Nature Package will encompass a number of bespoke support schemes that will be available depending on the type of land managed," Poots continued.

"Over time, increasing levels of funding will move from the Resilience Payment to the Farming for Nature Package as momentum builds and it will form the central plank of agricultural support. The aim is to ensure that the environment becomes both an enterprise and a profit centre on farms.

"The initial focus of the Farming for Nature Package is proposed to be on actions to maintain and improve biodiversity at farm and landscape level.

“A number of proposals, for example around hedgerow management, the restoration of dry stone walls, field margins, buffer strips and trees, are contained in the consultation document.”

Responses and views can be submitted via the DAERA website.