New report shows that cutting carbon could provide new income for farmers

A new report, launched today by Green Alliance and the National Trust, shows how carbon reduction could be added to a package of services delivered by farmers and land managers, providing them with a new source of private funding.

Peatbog habitat, Brecon Beacons ©National Trust Images/Corrinne Manning

Together with Green Alliance, here at the National Trust we’re pioneering a new concept in funding environmental restoration and improvement. The Natural Infrastructure Scheme (NIS) is a model for creating private markets for ecosystem services from land.[1] It has already been proposed for services such as flood prevention and water quality improvement, and is due to be trialled in Cumbria.

A new report, out today, shows that carbon reduction could be added to the package of services offered in a NIS, helping the UK to meet its carbon targets and providing a new source of funding for farmers and land managers.[2]

Land use is becoming a significant focus in the effort to reduce carbon across the economy, with agriculture accounting for about ten per cent of UK emissions.[3] The Committee on Climate Change is currently preparing advice for the government on setting a net zero carbon target for the UK. But Green Alliance and National Trust’s analysis suggests that new government policy will be needed, specifically targeting the farming and land use sectors to achieve this.

By changing land management through practices such as planting cover crops or trees, farmers and land managers can reduce their carbon emissions. Making these changes can be expensive. The analysis suggests that, in most circumstances current funding arrangements mean tree planting, peat restoration and changes to agricultural management are not financially attractive.

New government policy to strengthen demand for carbon credits from these services, could be a game changer. The report proposes that a new Farming and Soil Carbon Code, building on existing carbon credit schemes for woodland and peatland restoration, would mean UK farmers and land managers could sell carbon credits alongside other environmental benefits as part of a Natural Infrastructure Scheme, making many more environmental projects viable.

Shaun Spiers, executive director of Green Alliance, said:

“The Natural Infrastructure Scheme concept can be used to reduce flood risk and improve water quality. The ability to sell other benefits such as climate change mitigation through this model will increase the number and scale of viable restoration projects. The government should act now to make the most of this potential by delivering on its promise to strengthen UK carbon credit markets.”

Patrick Begg, Outdoors and Natural Resources Director at National Trust, said:

“There’s increasing recognition that if the UK is to meet its long-term ambitions on climate change it needs to lock up more carbon in our soil, peatland and woods. Farmland needs to be at the heart of this approach, and farmers should be financially rewarded for this.

“Our latest research shows that by “stacking up” these climate change benefits alongside improvements to water quality and better flood management, farmers can benefit through new Natural Infrastructure Schemes which unlock money from the private sector. But we need government to get behind this, including by acting as a buyer of services themselves, and also backing new carbon credit schemes.”


[1] New markets for land and nature: how Natural Infrastructure Schemes could pay for a better environment was published by Green Alliance in September 2016. Under the NIS, groups of farmers and downstream businesses enter into long term private contracts. Farmers manage their land to reduce the risk of downstream flooding, and improve the quality of water, funded by organisations who would otherwise incur huge costs from flooding and water contamination.

Two subsequent reports drew on the latest data and modelling, to analyse hypothetical water quality and flood protection schemes in East Anglia and north west England respectively to demonstrate how Natural Infrastructure Schemes could work in practice and who would benefit.

[2] Download the full report: New routes to decarbonise land use with Natural Infrastructure Schemes

This report forms part of a collaborative project, led by the National Trust and Green Alliance, and supported by Southern Water.  The aim of the project is to develop and catalyse new market solutions to support sustainable land management on UK farmland – a new approach to managing land for profit and the environment.

[3] Committee on Climate Change, 2018, Land use: reducing emissions and preparing for climate change

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