The Campaign for the Farmed Environment: evaluation of partnership, local and wider impacts (March to September 2012)

The evaluation examined the institutional arrangements, operational processes, and implementation of the CFE.

The methodology included observation of meetings at national and local levels, interviews with representatives of partner organisations, and an on-line questionnaire for wider stakeholders. A media analysis was carried out, and a range of monitoring and evaluation reports were also reviewed to provide a holistic picture of the overall impacts of the Campaign over the period 2009 – 2012.

Impact evaluation reports indicated a range of benefits from the Campaign in the target counties. Reports indicated that not all the Campaign targets were achieved and impacts were variable across the target area.

Results from the evaluation indicated that national stakeholders had a consistent view of the key aims and objectives of the CFE. Overall there was agreement on perception of aims and objectives of the Campaign at both national and local levels. The majority clearly indicated that there were two main objectives for the Campaign: to ensure the environmental benefits of set-aside were not lost, and to avoid regulation. At the regional level, respondents’ descriptions of the aims of CFE were more varied and to a certain extent tended to depend upon the position of the respondent. Farmers tended to describe the aim as avoiding set-aside or avoiding regulation. Others described the aims in terms of protecting the environment without compromising farmers’ ability to make a living.

At both national and local levels, those most closely involved with the Campaign indicated a range of benefits arising from synergy of the CFE objectives with their organisational and/or individual goals. Partners at the national level indicated a small range of benefits largely linked to the fact that being part of the CFE helped to achieve organisational targets, provided them with opportunities to work with partners that they would not otherwise have, and helped to break down barriers between organisations. The CFE also incurred costs for the partner organisations involved, largely in the form of personnel time but also in the case of the NFU and CLA, significant levels of administrative and managerial support.

Respondents at both national and local levels indicated a wide range of benefits arising from the partnership work undertaken during the Campaign. National level respondents noted the Campaign had enabled closer working between previously opposing groups e.g. the farming industry and environmental groups. Success was attributed to a willingness on all sides to work together and the recognition of common goals. Some respondents indicated benefits in the form of improved understanding between partners, which had enabled the group to ‘move beyond’ politics to work constructively together. At the local level, respondents were generally enthusiastic about the partnerships formed in the Local Liaison Groups (LLGs) and the way they worked. Partnerships formed at the local level were indicated to have ‘strengthened the links between organisations’ and ‘brought people together who would otherwise be suspicious of each other’. None of the regions reported any conflict, and where strong differences of opinion occurred, consensus was reached through discussion in LLG meetings.

The impacts of the Campaign were explored under six broad categories of activity: ‘Targets’, ‘Attitude and Awareness’, ‘Partnership, Message’, ‘Delivery and Engagement’, and ‘Resources’. Data from national and local level interview respondents was integrated with information from the on-line questionnaire and from evaluation and monitoring reports to provide a complete overview of the Campaign.

Targets. There is clear recognition among those involved in delivery that the land management targets were only partially achieved. Many respondents indicated a key causal factor was the original target-setting process, which was felt to be rushed, resulting in politically driven, arbitrary, and unsuitable targets, some of which could not be measured. More than one respondent (at national and local levels) acknowledged that right from the start it was clear that some of the targets would never be met in the given time frame. In addition, the problems arising from inadequate monitoring and mis-recording of action on the ground, make it difficult to ascertain exactly what has been delivered. Several respondents were more optimistic noting that some of the targets had been met, and there is recognition that a wider range of benefits has been delivered by the Campaign, including: increased adoption of targeted ELS measures, raised awareness and education of farmers, and the value of partnership working.

Attitudes and awareness. Changing farmer attitudes was one key area where respondents at the national level felt they had some success. There was a certain amount of polarised opinion with some respondents suggesting there had only been a raising of awareness of environmental issues among farmers, while others suggested a deeper change in attitudes. At the local level, stakeholders also varied in their opinions, some argued more strongly that a change in attitudes had been achieved, while others felt changes were more subtle and superficial.

External communications. Communications were perceived as good; the Campaign received widespread press coverage and tailoring of the message to the local situation resulted in a more effective communication with farmers. The Campaign enabled the key messages to reach more farmers as it was reinforced through the multiple organisations in the partnership giving the same message. This has to be tempered with recognition of the difficulties encountered in communicating the CFE message (viewed as too complex), the type of information provided in the farming press (more focused on awareness raising than increasing understanding), and difficulty in engaging with the ‘hard to reach’ which the Campaign had targeted. Difficulties can be attributed to limited skills, a lack attention to communications in the early part of the Campaign, the disproportionate resources required to engage with hard-to-reach farmers outside existing agri-environmental schemes, and the short period of time over which the Campaign has operated. In some regions particular effort was made to contact with farmers regarded as difficult to engage, with some success, but this was hampered with limited information to enable contact to be made. Respondents familiar with voluntary approaches indicated that, given the short time frame, the Campaign had been extremely successful in raising awareness about its activities. Improving understanding is likely to take longer.

Delivery and engagement. The Campaign was effective in helping the partnership organisations recognise that environmental goals could be integrated with production goals. Partners at the local level were able to agree on local priorities, creating a consistent message going to farmers from different organisations. The Campaign was less effective in recognising which activities were successful and which ones did not work and there was a failure to recognise and admit that some approaches did not work. A reluctance to adapt to change was also reported, particularly with reference to targets and there remains a lack of feedback systems that would enable change. In terms of farmer engagement, views were polarised. At the national level, respondents were more pessimistic, indicating that while there had been some behavioural change brought about through improved engagement and encouragement of farmers, it was felt many farmers remain unconvinced. Local level representatives, however, were more positive and a key success, cited across all regions, was the improved engagement with farmers. The local level respondents felt they had engaged more fully with farmers than ever before and this success was attributed to the partnership approach, which resulted in multiple messages coming from different directions, and from targeting those farmers that had not previously engaged with agri-environment schemes.

A key issue explored throughout the Campaign was ‘how to communicate with farmers’ and raise awareness about the central Campaign messages, and in particular how to access the ‘hard to reach’ farmers. Local level respondents in the study indicated that the key reasons for farmers to get involved in the Campaign included ‘peer pressure’, ‘avoidance of regulation’, ‘benefits to be obtained in terms of advice and financial support’, and ‘environmental interests of the farmer’. Reasons for not getting involved included ‘uncertainties over CAP reform’, ‘confusion’, and ‘being too busy’.

The main achievements of the Campaign included: creation of the partnership which brought different organisations together, raising awareness and delivery of environmental benefits, getting more farmers into ELS and retaining those already in the scheme, and recognition of environmental activities farmers are undertaking on their farms.

The main problems of the Campaign included: uncertainty over CAP reform, confusion from the complex message and poor communications at the start of the Campaign, financial costs of undertaking measures, the difficulty of engaging farmers, unrealistic targets that had been set at the start, and difficulties with monitoring and recording of activities. Uncertainty over CAP reform was cited as a key problem for farmers, and when combined with the confusion from poor CFE messaging it had negative impacts on farmers who became reluctant to get involved and ultimately reduced the level of engagement. The uncertainty increased towards the end of the Campaign as CAP proposals were announced.

Project Manager (Research Team): John Powell  Research Team:  Carol Kambites  Pete Gaskell  Matt Reed  Nigel Curry  Jane Mills  Chris Short  Nick Lewis