Combining collective agri-environmental contracts with a payments-by-results approach

Combining collective agri-environmental contracts with a payments-by-results approach

In his Master thesis, Max Sonntag analysed the potential for combining collective and payment-by-results elements for agri-environmental contracts, based on interviews with ten intermediaries from England. These intermediaries are facilitators of farmer groups who receive funding from the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund (CSFF) for their work to align the management options of farmers on largely adjoining holdings.

The key research question of this study was “What are potential benefits and challenges of combining a collaborative payment for ecosystem services approach with results-based measures?” The particular focus was the role of the intermediary, here the facilitator of a Facilitation Fund group in England (see Practice Abstract 2 here).

Facilitators are responsible for bringing together a group of (at least four) farmers, covering at least 2,000 ha of (largely) adjoining land. They organise group meetings and farm walks, invite expert speakers and align the Countryside Stewardship management options that farmers enrol in. CSFF is technically not a collective contract, as the payment is transferred only to the facilitator. The degree to which the farmers collaborate depends on their individual engagement in the group. There tends to be less cooperation when there is a high proportion of pre-existing individual agri-environmental contracts within the group (Jones et al., 2020, p. 65) as farmers cannot change their contracts before the agreed end date.

Facilitators in this study worked with groups in the regions where the Results Based Agri-environment Payment Scheme (RBAPS) pilot in Northern England (Wensleydale) and East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) was implemented. Therefore, they had an awareness of what a results-based approach could entail, and some farmers in these areas had made positive experiences with the pilots (more information). 

Combination is promising…

In general, facilitators thought that a combination of collective and results-based elements was a good idea and would work well. Five interviewees commented that the Facilitation Fund groups could be used as a platform by farmers to exchange and share knowledge on how to achieve results, and farmers in the group could more easily be trained to undertake self-assessments of results achieved. Alternatively, the facilitator would be on hand to help with the assessment of their plots. Three interviewees stated the result-based approach could enhance friendly competition among members, and access to results-based payment options could encourage more farmers to join the group. There was also the view that farmers who are members of Facilitation Fund groups already demonstrated an interest in learning and innovation regarding environmental activities and therefore would likely be keen to explore result-based options.

…but are there enough trained facilitators? 

Facilitators stressed that results-based payment are not suitable for every case. Indicators needed to be carefully chosen to ensure they are reliable and do not result in a high administrative workload for the farmers, and results-based payments needed to be coupled with a base payment (e.g. via an action-based measure) to reduce the risk to farmers. Current facilitation fund facilitators were seen to be well placed to work with groups to expand into result-based schemes. However, some interviewees had doubts whether there are enough facilitators with the right skills available to be able to advise farmer groups on results monitoring and effective group work at the same time. This suggested additional training for facilitators would need to be made available if such a combination of approaches was to be rolled out.

Onerous paperwork is a barrier 

Interviewees had concerns about the amount of paperwork. Five facilitators already perceived the administrative work related to the Facilitation Fund as onerous, and were weary of an increase if a results-based approach added to this load. In addition, many Facilitation Fund groups currently have no monitoring activities in place, neither with regard to the outcomes of their agri-environmental management, nor the success and social capital of the group as a whole (Prager, 2022). This lack of experience may be a particular hurdle for setting up a result-based approach and the related assessment and reporting activities.

In a scenario of combined collective and result-based elements, a majority of the interviewed facilitators believe that assessing results of management activities, helping with monitoring and providing 1-to-1 advice would be a key aspect of their new role. Others felt their role would not change much: they would continue to facilitate the group’s work as a neutral third party, organise training and help with spatial targeting.

Facilitator role is similarly important in other countries

In conclusion, facilitators have an important role in supporting farmer groups in environmental management. This is in line with observations from other agri-environment climate schemes, such as the Dutch national collective scheme (Berner, 2021), or the result-based Burren Programme in Ireland (Nietzschmann, 2021, Master thesis, more information), where facilitators are involved in multiple roles. These include, for instance enabling communication and coordination among participating famers, offer advice and extension services, assist with the spatial targeting of measures to the most suitable areas in the landscape, join in the monitoring activities, or re-distribute and administer payments to farmers received from the government.

Facilitators view a combination of collective and results-based approaches favourably and most are ready to embrace the challenge of this innovation. Nevertheless, a number of design and administrative challenges remain to be tackled.


To cite: Sonntag, M. (2021): Combining a collaborative PES approach with a payments-by-results approach in England: Process Net-Map interviews with Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund’s intermediaries. Master thesis in Integrated Natural Resource Management at Humboldt University Berlin, December 2021.

Supervision: Claudia Sattler (ZALF) & Martin Scheele (HU)

Blogpost written by: Katrin Prager & Claudia Sattler 

Pictures: Jennifer Dodsworth & Katrin Prager (taken at a contracts2.0 stakeholer workshop in Ireland)

Contracts2.0 at the ESP Europe Conference

Contracts2.0 at the ESP Europe Conference

The Ecosystem Service Partnership Conference offered a welcome opportunity to discuss the topics and research of Contracts2.0. From the 10th until 14th of October, the Ecosystem service research community gathered in Heraklion, Crete, to spend five warm autumn days together discussing transformative ecosystem research, the future of education, and values.

Discussing motivating contract design

The researchers working in the Contracts2.0 project were well represented and hosted several sessions. For instance, the session “Motivating contract design for the provision of ecosystem services and biodiversity in agriculture”, facilitated by Bettina Matzdorf, discussed the development and implementation of innovative contract models to produce more biodiversity and ecosystem services in the agricultural landscape.

Eszter Kelemen talked about the results from the Policy Delphi study, which was carried out as part of the Contracts2.0 project and explored how and under which circumstances novel contractual solutions could be better implemented within the European policy context.

Then, in his talk about farmers’ preferences for new agri-environmental-climate measures (AECM), Wojciech Zawadzki presented the results from the stated-preference-based Discrete Choice Experiment, where farmers could choose between practice-based and results-based agri-environmental measures.

Reflecting the implementation of novel contractual models

In the session on “Results-based approaches and other integrated models as drivers for ecological conservation and policy integration”, István Szentirmai gave a presentation on the case study Őrség National Park where new results-based and value chain contracts were designed together with practitioners. Dieter Mortelmans talked about the experiences from the contract innovation labs in Flanders to shift towards results-based agri-environmental measures and simultaneously achieve policy integration in rural municipalities faced with high land pressures.

Making local knowledge count

The last of the sessions that incorporated the Contracts2.0 project was “Making local knowledge count: co-design principles and practices for agri-environmental programmes”, facilitated by Francis Turkelboom. In this session, Louise Vercruysse presented the lessons-learned regarding practitioner participation in the co-design of agro-environmental contracts. Inés Gutiérrez-Briceño held a presentation on how to find incentives to move towards agroecological transition in the Community of Madrid and Jennifer Dodsworth discussed the mapping processes of co-design within Agri-Environment Scheme Development in North-England. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, these last two presentations were quite difficult to follow. The discussion in this session centred around the question of how to deal with local power dynamics and whose knowledge to include.


Food for thought: the role of science and researchers

The conference hosted a number of captivating keynote speeches. On the second day, for instance, Contracts2.0 researcher Ezster Kelemen, gave a talk about the inclusion of indigenous knowledge in Ecosystem Service research.

Who do you include? And how do you navigate the different layers of marginalization?

Her presentation made us reflect on our own position and role as researchers in local power fields. Giving a voice to representatives of local communities may not be enough, and true inclusivity is challenging and requires creative methods. These topics would come back at different times during the conference, and especially in the sessions related to participatory contract co-design.

Another remarkable keynote speech was given by Esther Turnhout about transformative ecosystem services research. She addressed the lack of diversity in the science community and the misconceptions about the science-policy-interface by both scientists and policy makers. There is not enough attention given to the interests and power relations within science, and the dominant framing of research problems. Esther calls for epistemic disobedience, for scientists to claim cognitive justice and integrate a plurality of paradigms. Furthermore, science is not an objective source, but should be part of the “messy, democratic game” that is politics. Definitely one to think about.

All in all…

…it was a successful conference for the Contracts2.0 researchers. Not only to present our work and discuss it with fellow researchers, but also to get inspired by people engaged in similar projects, make new connections and networks, and to reflect critically on our own research.

© Text and Pictures: Louise Vercruysse