REPORTS that the Government is considering abandoning the flagship Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) have been met with major concern this week.

Under ELMS, which operates on the principle of “public money for public goods,” land managers will receive payments for restoring degraded landscapes and making space for wildlife. It is currently at the pilot stage but is due to be rolled out in 2024.

Rumours surfaced over the weekend, first reported in the Guardian newspaper, that on the back of Friday’s mini budget, the Government was mulling abandoning ELMS entirely and returning to EU-style, land-based payments that prioritise maximising food production.

The reports sparked major worries from farmers, many of whom have been preparing for ELMS for the past five years since it was first devised by then-environment secretary Michael Gove.

A consortium of wildlife groups headed by the RSPB branded the plans “an attack on nature”, adding they fear deregulation would remove protection for wildlife, rivers, clean air and food standards.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs denied it was scrapping ELMS on Tuesday, but said it was looking at “where and how improvements can be made”.

In a blog post, it said: “Boosting food production and strengthening resilience and sustainability come alongside, not instead of, protecting and enhancing our natural environment.

“Later this year we will set out more details of plans on how we will increase food security while strengthening the resilience and role of farmers as stewards of the British countryside.”

A Defra source told the Press Association the interim subsidy system implemented post-Brexit, which was due to come to an end in 2028, may be extended but they did not anticipate ELMS being abandoned.

ELMS is the biggest shake-up of farm policy in England for 40 years, introduced after Brexit to replace the EU's CAP payouts.

NFU president Minette Batters faced a backlash after saying her organisation had wanted a delay to the schemes' introduction. "We called for a delay not because we wanted to hang on to the status quo but because we believe that the sustainable farming incentive (SFI) needed to have more detail and it needs to be profitable," she told the BBC.

"We have always been calling for a better policy, one that does deliver for food production and for the environment."

Writing on social media, she added: "For the record, I want ELMS to deliver for environment and food, be profitable for all farmers. No option for upland farmers and not enough detail/reward for others in SFI is unacceptable. We must take time to get this right."

Lucinda Douglas, director in the north for the CLA, called for ministers to bring to an end rumours over the future of ELMS, saying speculation only serves "to damage confidence amongst farmers that the UK Government is serious about moving away from the Common Agricultural Policy regime".

“As farmers and land managers, we know that you do not have to choose between food production and improving the environment," she said. "We can and must do both. Indeed, the cornerstones of ELMS actually benefits farmers as they go about their work feeding the nation. Examples include soil health, supporting diversity, and sequestering carbon.

“As in the past, we will press Defra in making further improvements to the ELM policy. At the moment it is a work in progress.”