Many farmers go unrewarded for delivering benefits to the environment according to more than 500 farmers who participated in a survey by the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE).

The findings reveal how much work is currently undertaken without any payment from the current stewardship schemes. For every farmer receiving an agri-environment payment for sowing a pollen and nectar mix, another farmer is doing the same voluntarily. About twice as many arable farmers are providing supplementary feeding for birds and about four times as many are sowing catch and cover crops at their own expense outside any scheme.

The findings also highlight the diversity and extent of measures being implemented to help protect water quality, soil health and farm wildlife.

Some 90% of respondents had improved their soil management, 81% had increased their efficiency in using pesticide and fertilisers, and 73% had adopted nutrient management planning.

Three-quarters of respondents stated that better financial support would encourage them to make further beneficial changes. More than 90% felt that responding to land conditions was highly important in their decision making and over half would like to see options that better fitted within businesses, suggesting a desire for more flexibility in future schemes and something that can be addressed at policy level as UK government looks to new support mechanisms post-Brexit.

Despite the current lack of financial incentive, much is being achieved. The vast majority of survey respondents had grass buffers in place to protect water courses while 60% of the arable and mixed farmers had supported farmland birds through supplementary feeding and wild bird seed mixes. Around 65% had sown flower-rich mixes to support pollinators and over 80% of livestock farms had fertiliser-free permanent pasture, benefitting wildflowers and insects. Other popular measures include over-wintered stubbles, catch and cover crops and watercourse fencing.

CLA vice president Mark Tufnell said: “Despite no financial incentive, this level of engagement with CFE demonstrates farmers’ and landowners’ credentials as custodians of the land. CFE helps the industry through its educational and collaborative approach, and we look forward to continuing this industry partnership through a time of significant policy change.”

Many farmers commented positively on how their actions had led to wildlife thriving and healthier soils on their farms.

One farmer reflected: “What motivates me is to lead by example and show people that the countryside is not something that just happens. Landowners and farmers do far more than the majority realised year by year, generation by generation. I always say that every view, every hedge and wall is created over many years. Never take it for granted.”

Geoff Sansome, head of agriculture, Natural England, said: “These responses confirm farmers’ dedication to the natural environment and it’s great that they continue in such uncertain times. I am glad that many of these actions are those we can now support through the much simpler Countryside Stewardship offers, and that farmers can be properly rewarded for their efforts.”