A report published by think tank Green Alliance and charity the National Trust proposes a scheme for “green farming” whereby farmers could be paid to reduce flood risks and increase water quality, called National Infrastructure Schemes. Following Brexit, the current Common Agricultural Policy (“CAP”) will be replaced and the report’s authors say National Infrastructure Schemes are a “new and better system of agricultural subsidies which could sit alongside and complement markets in ecosystem services”.

Green Alliance puts the cost of river flooding and water contamination to water companies, local authorities, public agencies and infrastructure operators at just under £2.4 billion a year which they are keen to reduce. The proposals envisage farmers grouping together and being paid for measures that reduce flooding and provide clean water by these water companies and public authorities downstream. Work by farmers could include measures such as tree planting and rainwater storage on farmland.

The report proposes that the scheme would work through groups of farmers and groups of beneficiaries entering into a “multi-buyer multi-seller consortium contract for large-scale interventions in the upper reaches of a catchment”. Farmers would play a role in identifying the most effective land management services for the catchment, which would then be marketed to the potential beneficiaries. This would provide upstream farmers with an additional revenue stream and would reduce costs for downstream beneficiaries.

Green Alliance and the National Trust have said they will be working alongside landowners and businesses over the next year to prepare for pilot NIS schemes in the UK.

The innovative ideas set out in the report mirror similar conversations elsewhere about using CAP funds after Brexit as an opportunity for a more holistic approach to farming, land management and the environment. Burges Salmon is monitoring developments closely and is well placed to assist with whatever schemes emerge, as industry leaders in both agricultural law and environmental law and through our strong experience in the water sector.