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)