Farming in Cranborne Chase

Farming is Changing

On 1 January 2021 the agricultural transition period started. Between 2021 and 2027, Defra will gradually reduce and then stop untargeted Direct Payments.


Money freed up will be used to support agriculture in different ways. Farmers will be paid to improve the environment, improve animal health and welfare, and reduce carbon emissions.

There will be three levels of support aimed at paying for sustainable farming practices, creating habitats for nature recovery and making landscape-scale change such as establishing new woodland and other ecosystem services.

Some options will be universally open to all farmers and land managers, while others will be more targeted at a smaller number of large projects. There will also be significant grants made available to support farmers to reduce their costs and improve their profitability, to help those who want to retire or leave the industry, and to create new opportunities and support for new entrants coming into the industry.

Defra Tests and Trials – Farming for the Nation

Cranborne Chase is one of 12 AONBs that took part in a ‘Defra Tests and Trials’ project called Farming for the Nation.

The final report of the Environmental Land Management Scheme Test can be found here:


The results of a ‘Virtual Workshop’ held with land managers in 2020 with follow up questionnaires can be read here:


The AONBs that took part were testing new ways for Defra to incentivise environmentally friendly approaches to farming.

While it might seem straightforward on paper, in practice it’s not that easy to measure how ‘good’ or valuable a piece of grassland is other than its capacity for feeding livestock.

What wildlife does it support? How much carbon is it storing? How much rainwater does it absorb compared to concrete or bare cultivated ground, that otherwise might flow into a river or onto a road taking large quantities of soil with it and possible agrochemicals? How do you measure a hedge for its potential as nesting habitat for birds?

Farm Payments

The way farmers and land managers get financial support is changing. The Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) is being phased out and replaced with a new approach to payments.

Defra’s ‘Farming is Changing’ document sets out the latest information on farming policy in England from 1 January 2021 and is due to be regularly updated:

A new payment approach

2021 is the start of the seven-year transition away from EU-based rules and schemes towards a new approach which pays farmers and land managers to:

Cows at Fontmell Down
Cows at Fontmell Down
  • Improve the environment
  • Improve animal health and welfare
  • Reduce carbon emissions
  • Provide beauty and heritage for all

 This will be through providing grants for:

  • Environment Land Management (E.L.M.) to produce public goods through nature-friendly farming practices
  • Improving farm productivity and prosperity

This change has an impact across all land management practices. We’ll be updating this page regularly to include all the latest information and links.

Basic Payment Scheme ending

2021 will be the first year for the phasing out of the Basic Payment Scheme. The best way to keep payments coming in and ensure you’re ready for the new Environmental Land Management Scheme is to apply for Countryside Stewardship which will be available until 2024 with last application window in 2023.

Anyone in Countryside Stewardship after January 2021 can withdraw from Countryside Stewardship and transfer to the Environmental Land Management scheme with no penalty at agreed exit points.

Farming in Cranborne Chase AONB

Cardinal beetle
Cardinal beetle, photograph taken by our Ranger

Eighty-nine percent of the AONB is farmland. Half of this area is cropped and about a third is grazed, the rest is mostly woodland and set aside land. It is managed in typically large land holdings, there are only eight hundred and forty holdings covering about ninety-eight thousand hectares and a third of these are less than five hectares. Of the thirty-two thousand AONB residents, only six percent are employed in agriculture.

A sustained period of low farm incomes has lead to, among other things, an amalgamation of holdings into larger units and the sale of land to non-farmers. This has been going on as farms try to diversify into non-agricultural enterprises and have concentrated on game shooting to the extent that game cover crops have had a significant visual impact.

Farmer Groups

Farmers and land managers working together can deliver greater benefits, especially at a landscape scale.

Cranborne Chase AONB has a large number of farmer groups, who are helped by advisors or ‘facilitators’. Tracy Adams, our farm conservation advisor, works with these groups and work is funded by existing agri-environment schemes or through additional funding.

Map showing location of farmer groups in Cranborne Chase AONB

We recently received funding from Natural England’s Facilitation Fund to fund the facilitation of our Nadder Valley Farmer Group.



For more information about these groups, please contact Tracy Adams our Farm Conservation Advisor.

Countryside Stewardship – Facilitation Fund

Cranborne Chase AONB has been awarded funding through the Countryside Stewardship (CS) facilitation fund. The scheme is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and is part of the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE).

Cranborne Chase will be facilitating a project working with the Nadder Valley Farmer Group.

More information is on available on our Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund page.


South Wiltshire Farmland Bird Project

From April 2015 the South Wiltshire Farmland Bird Project broadens its horizons to become the South Wiltshire Farmland Conservation Project (SWFCP).

The area covered by the project is shown by the blue line in the map below. Funding came from Natural England and Wessex Water.


Project adviser Tracy Adams brought together groups of neighbouring farmers in ‘clusters’ to carry out environmental work at a much larger scale than previously when it focused on individual farms.

Tracy facilitated discussion amongst the farmers around what their priorities should be for collaborative action.

This gave total ownership of the environmental improvements on the farm to the farmer, and therefore not dependent upon a government funding scheme or on land designation and is free of the constraints associated with grant schemes.

Tracy Adams receiving the Bowland Award from the National Association of AONB’s in recognition of the project’s success.


Examples of projects include large scale habitat for farmland bird species such as restoring numerous dew ponds and improving chalk stream habitat for water voles and brown trout in chalk valleys across Cranborne Chase.

Game Management

Raising Our Game is the report generated by a Game Conservation Survey undertaken between 2005 -2007. 

If we are to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape within the AONB, then we must understand the forces that have shaped it over the last millennium and which continue to drive changes in the landscape now and in the future.

All the land in the AONB is privately owned so we must work together with land managers and the wider community to gain an understanding of how game and its management are sustaining landscape character and identify areas where game management requires assistance to remain sustainable.


The AONB has been identified as an Ancient Woodland Priority Area by the Forestry Commission (from 2009 onwards).

Ancient woodlands and trees represent a living cultural heritage, a natural equivalent to our great churches and castles. They are also our richest wildlife habitat and are highly valued by people as places of tranquility and inspiration.

The Forestry Commission are seeking to protect and enhance the ancient and native woodlands of the South West and increase the area of native woodland. This is achieved by offering grants under the English Woodland Grant Scheme and by working in partnership with organisation such as this AONB.

For more details see the Forestry Commission Website.

Wood fuels

The AONB has helped to part fund the “Coordinated Woodfuel Initative” this scheme provides advice on using wood fuel.

Wood fuel has three main advantages: –

  • It helps to reduce heating bills
  • It is sustainable and environmentally friendly when compared to fossil fuels – using wood fuel massively reduces your carbon footprint
  • It encourages the sustainable management of woodlands within the AONB

For more details, please see the document below, prepared by the South Wood Fuel Advice Service:

A Guide to Small Scale Biomass Heating Projects (PDF, 700Kb)

Woodland – Mapping woodland and providing evidence and advice

In 2008 a new project was started entitled “The Trees and Woodlands of the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs: a landscape view”. This document is aimed primarily at land owners and managers, advisers and consultants, but also those people who want to better understand how we came to came to our landscape view. This document will help by providing an evidence base that justifies landscape scale working. The forester or landowner will then be able to make better decisions about their own sites.

As part of this project, a new dataset was created which identifies all the woodland in the AONB, regardless of size. All the different kinds of woodland habitat that are found in the AONB have been recorded including features such as wooded scrub on the sides of chalk escarpments, small copses in the corners of fields and small ornamental plantations within the setting of larger designed landscapes.

The project methodology can be downloaded below: