INDUSTRY COMMENT: CLA CLIMATE CHANGE SUMMIT - LANDOWNERS ARE THE OPPORTUNITY AND AT THE HEART OF CHANGE
by GEORGINA SANKEY
The CLA’s Climate Change Summit earlier this month was both pertinent and timely. There is perhaps no other subject that can have such a fundamental impact on the future of the countryside and those who live, work and enjoy it, both in terms of the implications a changing climate may have for our natural capital and also the role that land owners and land management can play in mitigating some of the most pronounced risks.
It is encouraging that farmers, landowners and the CLA are taking the lead on climate change in the rural context and exploring the opportunities as well as the threats.
The key message at the summit was that “landowners are the opportunity and at the heart of change”
This is obvious really – urban areas provide the most intensive land use and the greatest levels of pollution and consequential depletion of our natural assets. Rural Britain can continue to provide some offset through carbon sequestration and remain the nation’s green lung but there is a more fundamental role for land managers to play in looking at more sustainable agricultural practices and responding to changing expectations in terms of the public good outcomes that our natural areas should provide.
Climate change is altering land use as land managers respond to changes in the timing and intensity of natural events with rising temperatures leading to an increase in pests, floods and droughts. Possible mitigation at the farm level includes reforestation, restoration of peatlands and the creation of habitats to support biodiversity.
Described as the ‘first line of defence’ against climate change, “Natural Capital” is emerging as a much used (but as yet not widely understood) expression. Effectively, natural capital is the stock of natural assets available – soil, air and all living things – from which humans derive benefit such as the food we eat and the fuel we use. Those who own and manage the land have a role to play in addressing the degradation of that natural capital, to ensure that biodiversity decline is reversed, managing the impacts of climate change and avoiding over exploitation of natural assets. Natural capital accounting – a process of calculating the value of natural assets and determining the investment needed in other assets, or the restoration of depleted assets to compensate for this degradation – attempts to provide the formulae and quantify the amount of natural capital to help manage the effects of climate change.
Natural capital is a complex global concept and one that poses some challenges in terms of determining asset value and in applying this concept locally. A natural capital assessment can give landowners, farmers and businesses a greater understanding of their dependencies on natural resources, which can lead to better informed sustainable decisions, improving both efficiency and productivity. It can quantify the benefit to others in terms of carbon sequestration, flood mitigation and social benefits – health, fitness and wellbeing, fresh air, visual amenity and many other less tangible (but essential) life attributes.
Amidst the undeniable challenges presented by Climate Change, it was encouraging to hear about the extent of opportunity which co-exists. Warmer climates mean suitable growing conditions for olives, grapes, apricots, alternative proteins (soya) and even truffles, as well as development opportunities into renewable energy and utilising food waste.
As the way in which land managers are incentivised looks set to change, taking a different approach to managing land and reducing the reliance on intensive agricultural practices by diversifying the enterprise base is likely to be necessary.
We know that the public are progressively more interested in sustainability, reducing plastic consumption, more sustainable and healthier eating, visiting and conserving the countryside and the habitats it supports. The farming and landowning community are keen to deliver this – but the industry needs to resolve a universal and straightforward approach to measuring Natural Capital and the Government must provide clear policy and support, including facilitating the training required to implement these new accounting systems and clarity on how a new funding regime will work. Landowners and managers should be justly rewarded for delivering public goods and services and encouraged to work at landscape scale and implement new uses of land.
Rural Solutions is experienced in delivering Whole Estate Plans, looking at estates and farm holdings as entities able to support a range of activities which utilise natural assets sustainably whilst creating a sound commercial footing and wider public good benefits. The consideration of ‘Ecosystem Services’ – i.e. the uses and benefits people derive from the natural capital forms a key component of our approach, ensuring landowners can manage the land to conserve and enhance the natural capital and the ecosystem services provided.