Today we’re releasing a report with Green Alliance outlining a new model for supporting green land management. New markets worth millions per year could help to support farming methods that reduce flooding, provide clean water and restore wildlife, for the benefit of all.
In August we set out our principles for restoring a healthy natural environment and called on government to ensure the environment is central to any replacement to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
Protecting and enhancing the ‘natural assets’ on which food production depends should be a core part of that new framework. Farmers should be able to benefit from new environmental markets that make it profitable and rewarding to manage land more sustainably.
We’ve been working with think tank Green Alliance on a project to do just that. The model we’re outlining today – a Natural Infrastructure Scheme – would see groups of farmers working together to sell flood protection and clean water to public authorities, water and infrastructure companies.
Most work on “payments for ecosystem services” has tended to focus on who might pay for these services, or on how exactly to price the services in theoretical terms. The model we’re outlining today is different – it’s a practical proposal focused on “producers” not consumers. It describes how landowners can collaborate to work out the most suitable natural engineering solutions (like planting trees, allowing rivers to naturally find their way, peatland restoration, etc.) to slow up and clean water, then package and market these approaches to buyers – water and infrastructure companies and public authorities downstream.
Most other kinds of new markets develop from producers spotting a market opportunity so we’re applying this approach to these ecosystem markets.
“Farmers should be paid fairly for producing great food in a way that supports the long term health of our farmland. The Natural Infrastructure Scheme is about creating a market for services from farming that today go unrewarded – reducing flood risks, improving water quality and creating homes for wildlife, while at the same time opening up new revenue opportunities for farmers.”
Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at National Trust.
Green Alliance calculates the cost of river flooding and water contamination to water companies, local authorities, public agencies and infrastructure operators at just under £2.4 billion a year. Contracting to avoid just a quarter of these costs could release as much as £120 million for each of England’s 100 catchments over a 20-year catchment scale scheme.
The Natural Infrastructure Scheme could also provide additional benefits on top of the core offer of reducing flood risk, cleaning up and avoiding water pollution. For relatively low marginal cost, wider benefits like public access or specialist habitat management could be stacked up on top, providing much bigger returns for society and the environment.
“The potential market for green farming is worth millions – dwarfing the £400 million available to farmers through government agri environment schemes. We need to make farming part of the way the environment is returned to health, and that means making good environmental management pay.”
Sue Armstrong-Brown, Policy Director at Green Alliance
How would a Natural Infrastructure Scheme work?
“Water companies understand the value of resilient catchments for our business and our customers. We are already exploring long-term partnerships with our upstream farmers. Building markets for natural infrastructure would be a significant step towards bringing these approaches into the mainstream.”
David Elliott, Group Strategy & New Markets Director at Wessex Water.
“As we prepare to leave the CAP, diversifying how we make money from our land makes good business sense. Setting up marketing groups for our green services would offer a great deal for farmers and for our customers. The appetite exists for doing things differently, if we can make it pay.”
Chris Clark, Nethergill Farm in the Yorkshire Dales
Businesses, farmers and conservation organisations can all help make these ideas take off, but the UK Government and the devolved governments can also play a role by:
- Providing seed funding through development grants to fund the initial costs
of setting up institutional arrangements for land managers and the area based purchasing consortia
- Removing policy and regulatory barriers by providing the derogations and licences
required at the demonstration stage, and by working with project partners to create the legal framework for mainstream delivery
- Creating space for markets by considering the potential role of ecosystem services as it assesses and devises its replacement of the Common Agricultural Policy in the UK
We’ll be working with Green Alliance alongside leading landowners and businesses over the next 12 months to develop and test this concept.
There’s a danger that debates over farming and nature policies post-Brexit get painted as a battle between farmers and conservationists. This work shows that the potential to develop new approaches that both can benefit from.