Back to main news

News – Spring/Summer 2017

Welcome to our Spring/Summer 2017 News

It includes an update on Cumulus Consultants, examples of recent research and consultancy projects, and other topical news. In this issue, we cover future agriculture policy post-Brexit and the concept of natural capital – areas which are becoming increasingly aligned. We hope you find it of interest.

Cumulus Consultants is a specialist rural consultancy with over 25 years’ experience of providing advice and analysis to clients in the land and environment sectors. Our services include policy and technical research, economic analysis, strategy and programme development, evaluation, and land, environment and rural business advice.

We are passionate about finding innovative solutions that will encourage economic growth and sustain the countryside for future generations. Our clients receive a personal and flexible service, and an integrated approach.

Brexit and future agricultural policy – the challenges ahead

Brexit is undoubtedly one of the defining events of our time, bringing with it both opportunities and threats for farming, environment and the rural economy.

Developing a fit for purpose agricultural and countryside policy is a key opportunity. A new policy can be designed to address, amongst other things, pressing issues such as biodiversity decline, soil and water quality, and climate change, as well as poor farm profitability especially in more marginal farming areas.

The good news is that there appears to be agreement amongst industry stakeholders on key elements of future policy in this regard including:

  • Public payments for public goods
  • Integration of private payments for ecosystem services where possible
  • An outcome-based approach, rather than a prescriptive one
  • The value of landscape scale, collaborative working
  • The need for viable farming systems to underpin the delivery of public goods

The big challenge will be securing the funding for this vital work. The concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services could be crucial in this regard, communicating the value of the public goods delivered by farming and rural land management to wider society and the economy. If people can see the public value of what is provided and how this exceeds current payments (around £2.8 billion per annum), this will be very powerful. Even more so, if the cost of under-investment or inaction is also made clear.

Other challenges include developing more effective and efficient schemes, and addressing the threats associated with future trading arrangements which could be detrimental to environmentally beneficial farming systems. Making a good transition to the new policy regime will also be critical in order to maintain confidence and avoid losing the good work that’s been carried out over the past 30 years.

Significant collaborative effort - involving farmers and landowners, representative bodies, conservation organisations and government agencies - will be required to get the right result.

Cumulus Consultants is very pleased to be contributing to this work including assessing the potential impacts on farmers and farm wildlife, understanding likely farm business responses, and designing innovative pilots to inform future policy. We hope to be able to report on these projects in future news.

If there are Brexit and future policy issues which you would like to explore, please do contact Paul Silcock.

Developing ecosystem accounts for protected areas in England and Scotland

Cumulus Consultants was delighted to be involved with recent ground-breaking work to develop ecosystem accounts for a selected suite of protected and other landscape areas in England and Scotland. Commissioned by Defra and the Scottish Government, the project was undertaken by a consortium led by AECOM.

Building on previous work carried out by the UN, we contributed to the development of an accounting framework and the production of ecosystem accounts for six areas including:  The Broads NP, New Forest NP, Lake District NP, Dorset AONB and two Scottish Land Use Strategy areas, the Borders and Aberdeenshire.

Each set of accounts comprised:

  • Asset accounts, measuring the extent and condition of six ecosystems (farmland, woodland, semi-natural grassland, heathland, open water, and coastal margin) in terms of their capacity to provide ecosystem service flows.
  • Physical flow accounts, quantifying the actual flows of fifteen ecosystem services.
  • Monetary flow accounts, measuring the value of these flows in monetary terms.

Ecosystem accounts – a sub-set of natural capital accounts – enable high-level monitoring of ecosystem condition and service provision alongside traditional national accounts. They also inform local decision-making in terms of ecosystem management, funding and investment.

For more detail, including a weblink to the final report, please see our new case study.

Natural Resource Management Plan for the South-East Wales Uplands

In the first study of its kind, Cumulus Consultants has helped produce a ten year, fully costed Natural Resource Management Plan for the South-East Wales Uplands. The work was led by Cardiff-based partner TACP and commissioned by Torfaen County Borough Council as part of the Eastern Valleys Uplands Project funded by the Welsh Government’s Nature Fund.

The plan covers 380 sq km spread over five local authority areas and includes sixteen large commons. Cumulus Consultants led on the agricultural analysis and liaison with commoners, and contributed to the development of a range of proposals.

The report presents an assessment of the area’s natural resources and ecosystem services, provides a series of maps showing potential opportunities, and develops eight management proposals and a number of costed action plans.

The proposals and action plans cover: retention of more water in the uplands; incentives for cattle grazing; heathland management and restoration; maintenance of commoning; renewable energy; landscape crime; recreation and tourism; and community engagement.

We were thrilled when the project was highly commended by the Landscape Institute in the Strategic Landscape Planning category of the Landscape Awards 2016.

“This is the first management plan for the uplands to focus on an ecosystems services approach (and) forms the prototype for other Natural Resource Management Plans in Wales … It offers the landscape profession an effective auditable process for implementing the ecosystems services model at a landscape scale”

For more detail, including weblinks to the full report and non-technical summary, please see our new case study.

Economic impact of the Earth Trust

The Earth Trust is a unique environmental learning charity which aims to create special places and promote sustainable lifestyles through a broad range of activities covering food and farming, water and wetland, future forests and living history.

With six sites in Oxfordshire covering 539 hectares, including a working conservation farm, an internationally acclaimed research woodland and five community reserves, all of which are open to the public,  the Earth Trust was keen to understand its impact in the local economy and more widely.

Cumulus Consultants was delighted to be asked to undertake the project. This involved the development of an impact assessment framework, consultation with staff and partners, and analysis of current economic impact and future potential.

Key findings included:

  • Direct employment and expenditure on goods and services, supporting 40 FTE jobs and over £1.1 million GVA locally.
  • Delivery of a wide range of ecosystem services benefiting local people and businesses; the main site has a natural capital value of £10-15 million and an amenity value of £33 million.
  • Skills and training activities benefiting over 3,800 children and adults each year, contributing to a well-educated society and a skilled workforce in the local area.
  • Local visitor economy benefits, with over 200,000 visitors each year supporting an extra £0.6 million expenditure and 7.5 FTE jobs.
  • Community engagement activities contributing to a happy and healthy society. Over 300 volunteers contribute the equivalent of a further 11 FTE jobs.
  • Primary and collaborative research which informs sustainable farming, forestry and wetland management.

Earth Trust Chief Executive, Jayne Manley, commented “The study undertaken by Cumulus was excellent. We’re now able to communicate our economic contribution to policy makers, influencers and partners and work to enhance it in future”.

Please contact us if you’re interested in how this kind of economic analysis can help your organisation or business.

Land agency, stewardship and future opportunities for estates and farms

At Cumulus Consultants, we have always been keen to keep our feet on the ground, and work alongside landowners, farmers and other land managers on a day-to-day basis.  We provide a range of land agency and stewardship advice, helping clients to manage their estates, farms and land holdings and achieve their objectives.

Core work includes managing clients’ Basic Payment Scheme applications, Environmental/Countryside Stewardship applications and agreements, and Cross Compliance.  Aside from securing valuable, regular income, the benefits include the identification and implementation of enhancement opportunities and peace of mind in terms of compliance and minimised risks.

We also provide independent, professional advice on landlord and tenant matters (dilapidations, tenancy agreements, grazing licences, joint ventures), land and environmental management, valuations and enterprise development.

Where possible, we draw on our wider research and consultancy experience to explore opportunities for clients such as developing more sustainable business models for estates and farms, applying a natural capital approach to asset management, and supplying new ‘natural markets’ (such as carbon sequestration, clean water and flood storage).  This area is set to get increasingly important with a focus on the delivery of priority public goods in future agricultural policy.

If any of the above is of interest to you, or you would like to find out more, please do contact us.

Please also see our new case study which illustrates our work with one historic and beautiful estate in the Cotswolds.

Rural development in Nepal

In November 2016, Cumulus Consultants MD, Paul Silcock, took some time out from the day job to celebrate a significant birthday. His destination was Nepal, which he last visited in the mid-1980s.

“Nepal is a fantastic country. The mountains and scenery are breath-taking, but more impressive are the people. Friendly, hospitable and persistently cheerful despite the challenges associated with living in remote and difficult areas in a developing country”.

Paul’s trip was in two parts: firstly a 4 day visit to a cluster of villages in the Mahabharat hills of Northern Nepal where Paul’s uncle, Richard Backwell, has been instrumental in helping to raise funds for a range of rural development projects; and secondly a 9 day trek up to the Annapurna Sanctuary.

The rural development work in the villages includes investment in water supply infrastructure, village toilets, school/community buildings and, more recently, earthquake repairs and reconstruction.

The work is spearheaded and co-ordinated by the inspirational Okhle Village Trust.  The Trust provides funding, equipment and expert assistance to support a variety of projects led by local village communities. The aim is to support and enrich the efforts of local communities in improving their own local infrastructure, education opportunities and social welfare in a sustainable and ethical way.

Fund-raising is carried out in the UK and elsewhere, and in addition to making a donation, people can contribute to the local economy by using the trekking services linked to the Trust, which employs local guides and porters.

“Overall, it was a wonderful trip, great to see rural development work in action and a real privilege to spend time in villages away from the main tourist areas; the welcome we received was truly humbling. The Annapurna trek was brilliant too!”

If you are interested in the work of the Okhle Village Trust, and possibly contributing in some way, please do visit their website at