In policy and academic literature, landscape-scale agri-environment schemes (AES) are discussed in conjunction with farmer collaboration, reflecting the assumption that the two concepts are synergistic. However, farmers cooperate in different ways and for different purposes, with agri-environmental collaboration representing a diﬀerent, more unique, case in relation to cooperation. Collective action among farmers may occur as cooperation (often facilitated by a third party) or as direct collaboration between farmers. Farmers’ general willingness to cooperate should not be conflated with collaboration under the demands and constraints of a landscape-scale AES. This paper investigated the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund (CSFF) in England as a policy intervention to develop cooperation amongst farmers and agree the agri-environmental management priorities that they plan to take forward across their holdings. Data from empirical research on the actual operation of six CSFF-funded groups in Cumbria and East Anglia was analysed from a social capital and collective action perspective. We found that key elements of social capital (connectedness, trust, norms) differed between cases, leading to different starting points for establishing groups. The resulting cooperation in agri-environmental management also varied depending on pre-existing networks. The CSFF supported steps to increase the capacity of individuals (and in some cases groups) to deliver agri-environmental outcomes via a facilitator, but struggled to create self-sustaining groups of farmers collaborating on agri-environmental management. The design of similar policy interventions needs to be explicit what kind of farmer cooperation is aimed for. It also needs to take into account the time required for building the prerequisite social capital, tensions between priorities of farmer-led groups and state-funded AES, and trade-offs between group cohesion and landscape-scale working.
- farmer collaboration
- farmer cluster
- facilitation groups
- environmental land management
- agri-environmental schemes