Frequently Asked Questions
- We, the Council, farm our land direct to achieve which ever form of sustainable farming is appropriate.
- We rely on Government led policy to encourage and support sustainable agriculture on our farms recognising this may or may not be the best ‘local’ fit.
- We negotiate and offer concessions on the rent paid by farmers to farm in a sustainable way that exceeds Government Policy.
- When land is re-let we require the new tenant to operate organically and or in accordance with our preferred method of sustainable farming.
- Downland Alliance
- Natural England
- Sussex Wildlife Trust
- Eastern Downs Farms Cluster Group
- Compassion in World Farming (Brighton group)
- The Food Partnership
- Extinction Rebellion
- Health (CCG/SCFT/Sussex Partnership Trust)
- Local Access Forum
- Reps from Golf clubs
- Stanmer Land Managers Group
- BHEC Trust
- Stanmer Tenants
- National Trust
- public, animal and plant health
- environment, climate change and good agricultural condition of land
- animal welfare
- Creation, maintenance and restoration of successional areas and scrub
- Floristically enhanced grass buffer strips
- Enhanced wild bird seed mix plots
- Unharvested, fertiliser-free conservation headland
- Cultivated fallow plots or margins for arable plants
- Arable reversion to grassland with low fertiliser input to prevent erosion or run-off
- Creation restoration and maintenance of species-rich, semi-natural grassland
Does the process extend to buying additional land for example to link up habitats?
Yes, possibly if we can raise sufficient funds to do so and there is land for sale.
How could we maintain the chalk grassland habitat and prevent scrub from taking over?
The best way to prevent scrub taking over a site is to graze it. While overgrazing can be damaging to wildlife under grazing can also be detrimental especially where it allows an even aged monoculture of scrub to develop.
Can the amount of arable cultivation be reduced?
Yes, where opportunities arise within the context of the existing tenancy structure.
How much of the estate can be given back to nature through rewildling?
There are many different interpretations of what ‘rewilding’ is, and there may be a limited case for carefully selected areas of the estate to be made available for rewilding. We are however very mindful of the fact that rewilding is not necessarily the best land use for managing and improving the quality of our priority chalk grassland habitats. We believe the challenge will be finding the right balance between improving and expanding our important and protected habitats, making more space for nature and adopting a more sustainable approach to food and farming.
What is being done to address pollution by nitrates (nitrogen based fertilisers) of the water / aquifer?
BHCC are partners, both financial and operational, with The Aquifer Project (TAP) alongside the South Downs National Park, Southern Water, Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Eastern Downs Farmer Cluster Group. TAP seeks to reduce both urban and rural pollution that have a detrimental effect on Brighton’s aquifer including highways run-off, commercial waste, run-off from manure and residential septic and oil tanks as well as agricultural chemical and fertiliser use.
TAP promotes catchment sensitive farming, for which there has been good take-up on the Downland Estate and has capital grant schemes for improving sprayer filling areas on farms as well as replacing residential waste treatment systems and oil tanks located in the Brighton water catchment area.
What is a nitrate vulnerable zone?
Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) are areas designated as being at risk from agricultural nitrate pollution.
Can the amount of chalk grassland be increased?
Yes, where opportunities arise within the context of the existing tenancy structure and council managed land.
What can be done to bring in organic or other forms of sustainable farming?
We currently have one farm that has organic status. Generally, however all of our farmers are currently farming in an extensive way and meeting and exceeding the Governments minimum requirement of Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition. This covers the following areas:
• public, animal and plant health
• environment, climate change and good agricultural condition of land
• animal welfare.
These requirements place far greater and more stringent environmental requirements on farmers than other land based users for example golf courses, playing field and public parks.
If more extensive methods of sustainable farming were to be considered such as organic, regenerative and water catchment sensitive farming there are a number of options that could be considered by the Council in order to introduce them such :-
All of these options have financial implications for the Council and may to varying degrees effect how easy it is for the Council to deliver them.
How much carbon does chalk grassland store (sequester) – more or less than the equivalent area of woodland?
Much of the scientific research relating to the sequestration of carbon into soils is still emerging and playing catch up public demand for more accurate information. To date research has been focused towards conventional agricultural and forestry systems which don’t necessarily sequester carbon to the same degree as more extensive farming systems amenity woodland or more natural landscape settings such as the downland estate.
The principle difference between chalk grassland as a carbon store and woodland is that carbon is sequestrated into the soil where it is potentially stored for longer. In the case of woodland carbon is predominantly stored within the timber of the tree with carbon potentially released when the timber is harvested and repurposed.
Existing research also shows that in some circumstances planting trees can result in a loss of carbon, especially where the trees are replacing well established soils. An interesting but slightly dated assessment was published by Natural England in 2012 see http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/1412347.
What is regenerative farming?
We could specify the type of farming being undertaken when granting a new lease, as and when the opportunity to grant new leases arise. Regenerative agriculture is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting bio sequestration, increasing resilience to climate change, and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil.
What is regenerative farming? How can BHCC specify the type of farming that is carried out by tenant farmers on its estate (for example organic, regenerative)?
We could specify the type of farming being undertaken when granting a new lease, as and when the opportunity to grant new leases arise.
How can the Downland Estate be made easier to access across the A27?
We are trying to get funds through Highways England to improve the A27 crossing points for walkers and cyclists. These would be very large infrastructure projects – requiring external funding – but it is one of the priorities of the Rights of Way Improvement Plan.
Is there scope for further tree planting or is the plan more about habitat (mainly chalk grassland) restoration?
With the City Downland Estate extending to over 12,800 acres we believe there is scope for both to be appropriately accommodated.
Does the Downland Estate make a surplus, break even or a loss at present?
It is difficult to obtain an accurate picture as there are a number of indirect costs that relate to the management of the Downland Estate. Our best estimate is that there is a net cost to the council, after all expenditure has been taken into consideration.
Are there any plans for housing or commercial development in the Downland Estate?
Within the Downland Estate there is scope for limited housing and commercial development. Any development proposals would have to be considered in accordance with the Councils or the South Downs National Park planning policy, and national planning policy.
We also recognise that appropriate development (housing or commercial) could provide an important source of revenue and or capital to support Council investment in the Downland Estate and fulfil wider corporate objectives.
How many tenant farmers are there and what are the terms of their leases?
There are 46 agricultural tenancies let to 16 farming tenants. Leases have been granted under two pieces of legislation, the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 and the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 (commonly known as Farm Business Tenancies) Leases granted before 1995 fall under the Agricultural Holdings Act and leases granted after 1995 under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995.
Prior to 1995 the Agricultural Holdings Act was the only mechanism available to landowners to let farms. The legislation on agricultural tenancies goes back to 1875 and has been regularly updated ever since. This provides greater protection and long term security for tenants who have a fairly long term investment in their property to allow crops sufficient growing time and to make investment in the land worthwhile.
Since 1995 Farm Business Tenancies are the only mechanism available to landowners to let farms. This type of lease allows both the landlord and tenant freedom of contact but broadly allows the tenant unrestricted access to land for a defined period of time.
The lease terms vary significantly between individual lease types and lease agreements but in essence the lease requires the farmer to pay a market rent for the farm and to farm the land in accordance with good agricultural practice.
Liability for maintenance and repair is either shared between landlord and tenant or is the tenants full responsibly.
How long do the leases of the tenant farmers run for?
Lease terms vary across the Downland Estate. The older Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies can run for three generations of farmers. Generally, however when new tenancies are granted, they are on a fixed term of 15 years.
What surveys / evidence / research are you basing your decisions on?
For the purposes of facilitating a public consultation on a future Vision for the City Downland Estate and in addition to the knowledge we and our officers have acquired through our day to day management of the City Downland Estate we have and will continue to rely upon a wide range of publicly available information. This includes our own stated Corporate Plan and policy objectives, public policy documents (eg SDNPA, DEFRA, Local Nature Partnership etc) and research papers. We have also relied heavily on open source mapping data to prepare the CDEP mapping portal which we will use to inform our decisions and determine what further survey/evidence and research may or may not be required.
In addition to the support we have received from the South Downs National Park Authority we have been liaising with and seeking advice form key local stakeholders who include:-
When the CDEP is complete and we more towards an implementation phase there will be a requirement for more granular survey works and evidenced bases information, probably on a site by site basis. We recognise that this detailed on site survey work will play a vital role in implementing any future Vision for the City Downland Estate. We have not however commenced any detailed, on site survey work at this stage for the following reasons.
We do not want to commit any financial resources at this stage of the process to justify detailed survey work across the whole City Downland Estate for the purpose of validating the City Downland Estate Plan that has not gone through a public consultation phase and may or may not be implemented.
It also seems most likely that as and when The City Downland Estate Plan is agreed it will be implemented on a phased basis as and when opportunities materialise to do so. It seems both sensible and pragmatic therefore to conserve our resources and deploy them appropriately as part of any phased implementation of the City Downland Estate Plan.
How can cycle access be improved / managed?
Improvements to the surfacing of bridleways and an increase in more Multi-User Paths are priorities of the council’s Rights of Way Improvement Plan (ROWIP). The ROWIP will feed into the Local Cycling & Walking Infrastructure Plan (often referred to as the LCWIP) – which will go out to public consultation later this year. The council’s City Transport Division has also been working on securing funding and delivering improvements to cycling infrastructure through the Government’s Active Travel Fund.
What measures are tenant farmers currently undertaking to improve wildlife natural habitats?
Generally, tenant farmers are following and implementing Government centrally funded stewardship schemes that are aimed at improving natural habitats, which includes higher level schemes and basic payments. In addition to meeting the minimum requirements of Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition which covers:-
Nearly all of our tenants have secured entry into a number of environmental options available under the higher level stewardship scheme. These options include and are not limited to the management of :-
In addition to these government-based scheme many tenants are changing and improving their management practices beyond this where they are inclined and can afford to do so.
What initiatives are there to engage children and young people in the Downland Estate at present?
The council is a partner in a National Trust led Heritage Lottery Funded project called Changing Chalk. Within Changing Chalk the council is managing a mini-project called Farm School, the objective of which is to link some Brighton & Hove primary schools with their local farms, to accommodate regular school visits and build connections between young people and the Downland. We are in the process of submitting a second stage bid.
Can scrub also have value for wildlife?
Yes, especially where the scrub is diverse in species and age and interspersed with areas of grassland. Unfortunately, much of the scrub on the downs forms an even aged monoculture with nothing growing underneath it, this scrub has a much lower value for wildlife.
What types of renewable energy production are being considered for the Downland Estate – if any?
In most cases the Council does not have direct day to day management control over the Downland Estate. In the main day to day management control has been passed to tenants who are asked to manage a specific property in accordance with their lease.
We have explored the potential use of wind power and turbines in the past which was found to be challenging due to adverse planning policies within the SDNPA and the lack of connectivity infrastructure. Our focus is currently on the feasibility on a potential solar farm situated close to three interested third parties. We will be exploring the viability of this project which again has planning and infrastructure risks, but initial studies have indicated that these could be mitigated. As part of a new Vision for the City Downland Estate Bio fuels, biomass, coppice, firewood and solar generation are possibilities. Wind generation is considered less likely in light of the SDNPA planning policies.
How can the community be more involved as volunteers?
The council is a partner in a National Trust led Heritage Lottery Funded project called Changing Chalk. One of the objectives of Changing Chalk is to encourage and promote participation and volunteering to support protection and improvement of chalk downland. The Changing Chalk partnership is currently considering how that is achieved by each partner but also across the partnership to ensure the process of recruiting and working with volunteers is regulated and well managed without being overly impacted by process.
We are also keen for everyone with an interest in the future of our downland estate to highlight volunteering opportunities through the ‘Discussion’ or ‘Your Contributions’ page on our website here https://climateconversationsbrighton.uk.engagementhq.com/city-downland-estate-plan.
What if any of the produce from Downland Estate farms is sold locally?
We do not keep records of farm produce or indeed allotment produce sold locally.
Lamb from the CityParks conservation grazing project is sold through Sheepshare a Brighton and Hove Community Supported Agriculture Community Interest Company.
With have local farm shops within the estate that have the opportunity to sell local produce.
How can conflicts between dog walkers, farmers, cyclists and other visitors be better managed?
We do expect all parties to take personal responsibility for following the Countryside Code and be respectful and understanding of each other’s positions. When conflicts do arise our City Parks team and the South Downs National Park rangers endeavour to resolve issues through good information, education and dialogue between the relevant parties. Where a new approach or solution is identified that would mitigate and or resolve the conflict this would very often be discussed with the Local Access Forum and the wider Estate Management team prior to any solution being implemented. This might include new and improved signage, a change of route and or new rights of way furniture.
CityParks try to maintain informative signage and use volunteers to assist in identifying potential conflicts before they arise. Volunteers are often drawn from the dog walking community which allows better communication and understanding of the issues at stake. CityParks also facilitate the Local Access Forum where representatives from a variety of user groups meet to advise on recreational use of the downs.
What other groups are involved in developing the WEP?
Over 400 individuals have attended our online discussion groups to develop the WEP, including representatives from Brighton Downland Alliance, Sussex Wildlife Trust, National Farmers Union, Food Partnership, Biosphere, TAP, Southern Water, Historic England and Stanmer Land Managers group. Internal services/teams from Brighton & Hove City Council are also supporting and involved in the developing of the WEP.
What are the proposed changes to the EU farm subsidies post Brexit and how might that impact on the WEP?
Direct subsidies will be cut in England by at least 50% by 2024, but crucially 10 new schemes will launch to help businesses adapt and provide new income streams for farmers and land managers.
Defra has now released the information businesses in England need to develop a strategy for success in a rural sector where environmental services sit alongside food production as a priority and valued outcome. These new schemes will help agriculture make its contribution towards the national net zero greenhouse gas emissions target. The recent Spending Review increased funding available for tacking climate change and, to help cut emissions from housing, the government has doubled the Green Homes Grant budget and extended it to March 2022.
In November 2020 the Secretary of State George Eustice launched The Path to Sustainable Farming, the government’s agricultural transition plan for the period up until 2024. Coming over two years since the Agricultural Transition period was first announced, the detail in this announcement is a significant step forward and will allow agricultural businesses to plan towards their future with greater certainty. The government has now set out by how much BPS Direct Payments will be cut each year between 2021 and 2024, and how this money will be used through new grants and schemes to help agriculture become more productive and prepare for there being no direct subsidies from 2028.
These schemes include a Farming Equipment Technology Fund, Farming Transformation Fund, Farm Resilience Support and a Slurry Investment Scheme.
Defra will reduce its total spend on Direct Payments by around 10% in 2021 and 15% in both 2022 and 2023, and the banded structure it is using to cut payments means that larger payments will be cut more heavily. Farmers receiving less than £30,000pa will have payment cuts of 5% in 2021, 20% in 2020, 35% in 2023 and 50% in 2024. The average payment reduction for businesses in 2021 will be 5.8%, but nearly 1 in 10 businesses will experience a cut of 10% or greater. Payments to the largest claimants will be cut by almost 25%.
A farmers’ exit scheme will be available in 2022 to help farmers who wish to retire to do so with dignity. The exit scheme will allow them to receive a lump sum payment rather than the diminishing series of annual direct payments. A consultation will be conducted early in the new year. To be eligible farmers are likely to need to surrender, let or sell their land. Synchronising these actions with an application to the scheme will need careful planning, which means that its success will be dependent on the design of the scheme to ensure that there are not too many administrative barriers and that applicants know where they stand. Alongside this, the government will be offering additional support to help new entrants into the industry.
In addition to the productivity funding, environmental funding will be increased using the budget released, and will become the focus of future funding for rural land management. Countryside Stewardship will be expanded in 2022 and 2023. In 2022 some core elements of Environmental Land Management (ELM) will launch. This will include the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) which is intended to be relevant to all landowners and act as a stepping stone to ELMs for those not currently in an environmental scheme. The SFI will support sustainable approaches to farm husbandry to deliver for the environment, such as actions to improve soil health, enhance hedgerows and promote integrated pest management. There will also be some new, stand-alone programmes to support tree planting, peatland restoration and nature recovery. ELM will launch fully in 2024 and comprise the SFI, Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery components (previously Defra called these tiers). The Local Nature Recovery component will include actions familiar to agri-environment scheme members and collaboration will be encouraged. In comparison the Landscape Recovery component will focus on large-scale projects involving forest, peatland, wetland and salt marsh. Overall, the transition plan contained key details of use to farmers and land managers in England, but with most of the detail still to follow after a consultation.
What is the potential for the current areas of open access land be extended?
Relative to many landowners the Council has substantially increased the provision of both statutory or permissive open access land. Evidence would also suggest that where there has been a significant increase in use there has also been some loss of biodiversity. On other areas open access land has been barely used with the majority of users preferring the use well defined and clearly marked rights of way.
Clearly there is potential to increase the area of open access land provided it is not at the loss of habitat improvement and or biodiversity gains. We are also mindful of the cost and liability associated with providing open access land and whether it may be more appropriate to focus our attention and investment on improving rights of way infrastructure, interpretation and connectivity.
How is chalk grassland comparable with rainforest as a natural habitat?
Chalk Grassland is often compared to a rain forest in miniature due to its high biodiversity albeit it on a much smaller scale. For example, the National Trust say “Wildflower meadows on chalk downland are sometimes called Europe’s tropical rainforest. They're home to an incredibly rich and diverse range of plant and insect life” National Trust.