Clause 1 of the Agriculture Bill gives the Government the power to provide financial assistance for ten environmental purposes. These include the conservation of native livestock and equines.  

Environmental Land Management (ELM) is the Government’s new scheme for delivering its environmental objectives. This briefing sets out how ELM can be used to encourage native livestock and equine conservation.

Native Breeds and ELM

ELM is only one of a package of measures available under the Bill. In practice delivering Government objectives will involve additional measures, this is particularly true when it comes to conserving livestock breeds.   

For example, ELM can assist by providing incentives for conservation grazing. But a whole range of other measures are equally important. Improving the supply chain, encouraging a network of small local abattoirs, making better use of geographical indicators, scrapping the OTM rule, investing in gene banking and marketing support are all vital, and all fall outside ELM. In addition, a few breeds, which are particularly threatened, will need to be the subject of bespoke breeding plans.

This need for a combination of measures must be recognised, and, importantly, integrated into both policy making and delivery.


The threshold below which land managers are ineligible to apply to participate in ELM should be kept low. Many of those who conserve our most genetically important livestock, and who we need to continue to do so if we are to maintain genetic diversity, operate on a small scale.

There must be no “Active farmer” type tests. People keep important native livestock and equines for a range of reasons, many of them unconnected with farming, but they are just as deserving of support to do so as farmers are. They are providing the same benefits.

Structures: The three tiers of ELM

The Government has said ELM will consist of three tiers.

Tier 1 should specifically be broad and shallow, open to anyone capable of delivering the environmental benefits, including the conservation of native livestock and equines.

This primarily requires supplements to encourage  the use of the right breed in the right place. A tiered approach could then incentivise the keeping of those breeds that are particularly at risk, with higher payments for those most at risk, which taper down as their situation improves.  

Tier 2 should promote local engagement and a sense of place. Many of our native livestock breeds are strongly associated with particular areas; they were bred to meet certain human needs in a specific location. Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs in Gloucestershire and Dartmoor Ponies on Dartmoor are the perfect agri-environmental example of the “right thing in the right place”. 

Promoting this local connection will directly encourage the conservation of the breeds concerned but will also bring other advantages in terms of helping to promote a greater sense of place and encourage local brands.

Many environmental benefits are best delivered at scale, and Tier 3 should therefore include specific incentives for farmers and other land managers to work together, backed up by facilitators able to get projects off the ground.

However, specific consideration should be given to commons; the most widespread form of land managers working together. Commons include large tracts of our most well-loved and ecologically rich landscapes including Dartmoor, the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Shropshire Hills.

The experience of commoners and commons owners under the CAP was not good. Because successive CAPs never really acknowledged the existence of commons, the regulations made within that framework did not fit well with them. Full engagement with Commoners Councils and Commoners Associations is essential.  

In practice much of what can be delivered under ELM will be done on common land, so it needs to be designed with commons in mind.

Payment Rates

Payment rates must provide a sufficient incentive to participate, reflecting the true cost of achieving the particular objective in the particular location, including transaction costs and the costs of advice.

Income foregone plus cost, the standard approach to payment, is not much of an incentive if your income is already low, which is the case on many of the uplands holdings that are so important for livestock conservation.  

With these less profitable holdings, the incentive needs to be enough to encourage the land manger to stay on the holding and deliver what is required.

With more profitable holdings, payment rates need to reflect the full extent of the income foregone. In parts of East Anglia, for example, this could be significant.

The importance of advice

Advice is important, but to be effective it needs to take different forms according to the circumstances.

Most farmers will already have their own trusted sources of advice, both formal and informal. Government needs to be alert to the risk of crowding out what already works reasonably well.

Generally, farmers and land managers say the most helpful advice comes from obviously trusted sources such as other farmers, farming organisations and the farming press. Government’s role here is primarily facilitation, supporting events at which knowledge and best practice can be exchanged and discussed. The AHDB’s Monitor Farms are an example that could be built upon.

In addition, there is an established network of agronomists, land agents and farm business advisers who will be able to provide professional advice. Government does not need to duplicate this, just ensure that the payment rates under ELM are sufficient to enable farmers to afford the advice.

The role of directly-provided government advice should be limited to specialist technical advice found in Natural England and the other agencies


Any scheme concerned with the management of complex natural processes and the distribution of significant amounts of public money requires a degree of monitoring and control.

When it comes to monitoring support provided for native and rare breeds maintained for the public good, two specific existing initiatives should be used.  The new Livestock Information System (LIS) will provide straightforward low-cost access, within the Government digital environment, to numbers and location of animals. Defra also approves breed societies and collects data from them for monitoring livestock genetic diversity. As a result we already have rich data sources available for monitoring at low cost.