Environmentalists, farmers and scientists are all calling on the Government to put tackling our climate and nature crises at the top of their New Year’s resolutions.1 The calls come as new YouGov research2 conducted on behalf of Wildlife and Countryside Link, reveals that the public are challenging the farming sector to do more to tackle climate change and nature’s decline.
The new polling shows that 92% of the public think it is important that farmers focus on tackling the climate and nature crises3, but only a fifth (22%) believe that farming has actually reduced its impact in the last five years. More than half (54%) believe the UK farming sector has made either no improvement or has had a more negative impact on climate change in the last five years.4 To increase public confidence in farming, the sector needs support and certainty from Government through progressive policies and investment. Current government policies offer limited support for wildlife and carbon friendly farming practices, and this needs to change.
The Government has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, while the National Farmers’ Union has set a target for net zero carbon emissions from agriculture by 2040. Farming currently contributes at least 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions, but with 70% of England’s land area being farmed, it also has a huge and unique opportunity to create natural solutions to our climate and nature crises. The Government must make net zero farming and land use a top priority in order to meet, or better still exceed, the 2050 target, starting by bringing back the Agriculture Bill as soon as possible and retaining its focus on delivering public goods like carbon capturing and nature conservation.
Environmental leaders, farming innovators and scientific experts are meeting today and tomorrow (Weds 8 Jan and Thurs 9 Jan) at the Oxford Real Farming Conference to discuss practical solutions to making our farming fit to meet the enormous scale of our nature and climate change challenges.5
Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link said: ‘Our climate depends on soil as much as oil. The UK cannot achieve net zero without farmers. Farm emissions are part of the problem, but farms are also part of the solution. Better land management is the key to locking up carbon.
‘Nine out of ten members of the public want farmers to play their part. So, Government must put the policies in place to help farmers become net zero heroes. That means guaranteeing long-term funding for public goods beyond this Parliament. It also means a clear roadmap for agricultural transition, starting in 2021 and ending in 2028 with a system that will be generous in its support for environmental public goods, so that farmers can plan now for a net zero carbon future.’
Martin Lines, Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: ‘Now is the time for nature friendly farming to become mainstream. Unless we urgently transition to a farming system that produces sustainable food, reduces emissions, restores habitats and sequesters carbon, farmer livelihoods and future food production will be threatened, and the impacts of climate change will escalate. Farmers are key to addressing climate crisis and wildlife decline – but urgent government support is needed to take nature friendly farming to scale.’
Helen Chesshire, Chair of the Wildlife and Countryside Agriculture Group and Senior Farming Adviser at Woodland Trust, said: ‘Farmers, environmentalists and the public are all sending a clear message to the Government that we need to prioritise natural farming solutions in the battle against climate change. Farmers are the guardians of our countryside and as such are uniquely placed to make changes that can help turn our climate and nature crises around. If the Government truly want to be environmental world leaders, they must make the most of the once in a lifetime opportunity the Agriculture Bill and post-Brexit policy presents to fix our broken farming system and make it sustainable.’
Research with 500 farmers by Wildlife and Countryside Link last year showed that environmental action within the farming sector is, on the whole, restricted, despite 80% of farmers believing that the health of the natural environment is important or very important for their farm business.6 A third of farmers reported taking no environmental action to deal with problems on their farms, with 44% undertaking one or two environmental activities, and only one in five undertaking three or more.
Farmers say the main reasons for inaction on environmental and other improvements are a lack of access to capital and uncertainty caused by Brexit.7 It is therefore vital that the Government give certainty on the funding and advice that will be available to farmers for the next decade, in order to give farmers the confidence they need to invest in reducing their impact on climate change and improving nature on the land that they manage.
Environmental and farming experts are making three key asks of the Government on farming policy this year, to:
- Progress theAgriculture Bill swiftly through Parliament, with public goods, such as the environment, animal welfare and public access, remaining its central focus, and start the transition to this new system in 2021.
- Guarantee a budget of at least £3bn per year for the next 10 years, to be invested in public goods, enabling farmers and land managers to have the certainty they need to invest in improving nature, animal welfare, public access and their impact on climate change
- Ensure that future trade deals and legislation maintain or improve environmental and animal welfare requirements, preventing a ‘race to the bottom’ in competing with countries with lower standards