Paying farmers for ecosystem services : costs and characteristics of long term agreements
Payments for Ecosystems Services (PES) schemes involve a voluntary transaction in which an environmental service (often a land use providing this service) is paid for by one or more buyer(s). In short, the beneficiaries of environmental services pay for their provision and the providers of those services get paid to provide them. The Westcountry Rivers Trust is currently developing a PES scheme designed to mitigate the negative impacts of diffuse pollution from agriculture on raw water quality and aquatic ecosystems more broadly. Scientific evidence suggests that targeted reversion of intensive agricultural land to more extensive systems can deliver numerous ecosystem services ranging from water quality improvements through to flood attenuation and carbon capture. The scheme proposes to make one-off payments to landowners who are prepared to take areas of farmland out of intensive agricultural production on a long-term basis (999 years). Payments to landowners would be financed through a regional fund made up of financial contributions from businesses and private individuals wishing to ‘off-set’ or redress some of the environmental impacts caused by their activities.
This paper first presents findings from an exploratory survey designed to assess landowner attitudes and receptiveness towards the scheme, undertaken during Autumn 2009 under RELU project RES-229-25-0009-A. The methodology comprised a questionnaire survey of 42 landowners located approximately evenly across 3 catchments in the South West of England. Findings from this survey informed the design of a second survey of 100 farmers in South West England conducted to examine more fully the factors influencing decisions to participate in a scheme and to estimate the private costs for landowners of land management changes proposed. These cost estimates inform assessment of the payments needed to secure long term agreements.