Thursday, 19 December 2013

Learning from Environmental Stewardship

Congratulations to PhD student Susanne Jarratt who successfully defended her PhD thesis earlier this month. Susanne used detailed qualitative analysis of interviews with 43 farmers to explore the way in which they developed environmentally friendly farming careers through their participation in agri-environment schemes. The farms were located in the contiguous National Character Areas of North West Norfolk, Breckland and the East Anglian Chalk, an area which has experienced a series of agri-environment schemes, from early Environmentally Sensitive Areas to the most recent Entry Level Stewardship.

Although the reasons for farmer's participation in agri-environment schemes have been well researched previously, we wanted to find out how farmers engaged with the process through time, in order to inform the development of the next phase of Stewardship schemes.  Summarising the main findings of a PhD thesis in a single table is a sightly dangerous thing to do, but the table below provides brief descriptions of the career pathways that Susanne's research was able to identify.  Career ‘stages’ represent points along the career in which changes are made, influenced by ‘contingencies’ that may be internal or external to the farm business. A summary of the research was published this week as a conference paper*.


Career pathway
Description
Conservation for shooting (parallel career)
Conservation at the margins
Little or no additionality but a pathway for maintaining existing high conservation value areas
Conservation wage
Additional conservation measures in return for payments
Conservation opportunity
A pathway for realising conservation aspirations, whether very general or species based
Self-directed
Self-directed and funded, sometimes informed by previous involvement in Environmental Stewardship

Informed by this research, we have suggested that the following should be incorporated into the new Stewardship scheme in order to ensure optimum uptake, ownership and delivery in terms of conservation benefits:
  • ·    Flexibility to enter schemes at different levels, recognising the different careers and stages at which farmers participate in Environmental Stewardship
  • ·   A mechanism for the provision of consistent trusted advice that can be instrumental in developing farmers’ environmentally friendly farming careers
  • ·   Recognition of Stewardship as a learning process on which farmers can build through progression to higher levels, or opt out to apply their knowledge and experience through self-directed careers
  • ·    Synergies of the scheme structure and options with shoot management interests to exploit benefits of game management where there is evidence that these occur
  • ·   The structure of the scheme should support contingencies to encourage farmers to move from Conservation at the Margin to Conservation Wage careers, and from Conservation Wage to Conservation Opportunity careers
  • ·    Recognition of the importance of Conservation Opportunity careers in producing ‘leaders’ who are able to modify social norms and recruit neighbouring farmers, thereby delivering benefits at the landscape scale.

* Jarratt, S., Morris, C. & Stoate, C. (2013) The role of Environmental Stewardship in the development of farmers' environmental learning careers. Rethinking Agricultural Systems in the UK. Aspects of Applied Biology 121:

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