Most stakeholder-based research concerning agri-environmental schemes (AES) derives from work engaging with farmers and land managers. Consequently, the voices and opinions of other actors involved in AES tends to be unrepresented in the wider literature. One group of actors that seem particularly overlooked in this respect are private (independent) farm advisors (i.e., the consultants contracted by farmers and land managers to advise-on AES and agronomic matters). To begin to rectify this knowledge gap we developed an exploratory online survey to explore private farm advisor perspectives in the UK; specifically, the situation in England and advisors' experience of Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship programme. A total of 251 Natural England registered farm advisors (29.9%) completed our survey. The majority of these had knowledge and expertise in relation to two (31.5%) or three (42.2%) Environmental Stewardship schemes, with proficiency in ELS (93.4%) and HLS (82.8%) being the most common. On average, advisors had 9.6±5.6yrs of experience and operated (75.3%) in a single region of England. Although our results concentrated upon a relatively simple set of initial topics of inquiry, the survey revealed a number of interesting findings. Firstly; for example, that in the opinion of the advisors working with farmers applying for Environmental Stewardship schemes, the 'knowledge-exchange encounter' occurring between themselves, their clients and Natural England is fundamental to the environmental effectiveness of these schemes as well as their farm business compatibility. Secondly, respondents suggested that beneath this ‘encounter’ lie tensions arising from the competing agendas and objectives of the different actors involved which can affect the content of agreements; for instance, farmer selection of management options versus Natural England's target environmental objectives. Farm advisors suggested that they had to negotiate this balance whilst also serving the needs of their clients. Thirdly, respondents raised issues concerning the complicated nature of scheme arrangements, both from their own and farmers’ perspectives, as well as the adequacy of payments to cover input costs and matters regarding contractual compliance, all of which theyproposed affected farmer participation. Looking ahead, we believe that future AES should account for all of these issues in their design to aid long-term farmer participation, effective agreement implementation and beneficial environmental management.
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Land Use Policy is an international and interdisciplinary journal concerned with the social, economic, political, legal, physical and planning aspects of urban and rural land use. It provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information from the diverse range of disciplines and interest groups which must be combined to formulate effective land use policies.
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