Paying farmers to create forests and wetlands is the most cost-effective way to meet UK environmental targets: Study

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Incentivizing farmers to restore some land as habitats for nature could meet UK climate and biodiversity targets at half the taxpayers’ cost of integrating nature on land managed for food production, according to a new study published today in the magazine. People and Nature.

This research is also being presented today at the British Ecological Society annual meeting in Edinburgh by Professor Nicholas Hanley, an environmental ecologist at the University of Glasgow.

The research, led by the Universities of Cambridge, Leeds and Glasgow, provides the first evidence of taxpayer savings offered by concentrating food production in certain areas to enable the creation of new forest, wetland and shrubland habitats in some of land currently used for agriculture.

The study suggests that this “land preservation” approach would cost only 48% of the funds needed to achieve the same results for biodiversity and climate through an approach known as “land sharing,” where land-saving measures conservation are mixed with agriculture by adding hedges to fields, reducing pesticides, etc., all of which reduce food yields.

In addition, the researchers say that trying to share land with nature by making farming more wildlife-friendly would cause the UK to lose 30% more of its food-producing capacity than if farmers were encouraged to set aside portions of land entirely to create semi-natural habitats.

The UK government has legally binding commitments to reverse nature’s decline by 2030 and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Land conservation for habitats could achieve these targets at half the cost of trying to farm on land shared with nature, say the researchers.

“Currently only a fraction of the £3.2bn of public money paid annually to farmers goes towards biodiversity and climate mitigation – about £600m a year,” said Lydia Collas, who led the study as part of his doctorate. in the Cambridge Department of Zoology.

“Nearly all of this fraction of funding supports land-sharing approaches that may do little to benefit species or sequester carbon, but typically reduce food production. Whether this is the solution has so far not been investigated.” cost-effective way to provide environmental protection. objectives”.

Professor Andrew Balmford of Cambridge, lead author of the study, said: “Increased incentives for farmers to create forests and wetlands will contribute to climate and wildlife mitigation at half the cost to the taxpayer of the land-sharing approach that currently receives ten times more public funds.”

The researchers say their findings, presented at the British Ecological Society’s annual meeting by study co-author Professor Nick Hanley, an environmental economist at the University of Glasgow, should inform the current Brexit-driven rethinking of the new Management Scheme. Earth Environment (ELM) of England. .

The researchers conducted an experimental choice study with 118 farmers responsible for 1.7% of all arable land in England, asking them to estimate the payments they would need to implement land-sharing practices or farm ‘saving’ approaches. Habitat creation on their land.

Farmers chose from a variety of farming approaches, nature interventions, and most importantly, payment rates. The study also considered the costs to the government of administering and monitoring these schemes.

The team used three species of birds – yellow hammerheads, bullfinches and lapwings – as an indicator of the effects on biodiversity, as well as a variety of ways farmers could help curb climate change, such as creating forests and hedgerows. .

On average, the farmers in the experiment accepted lower payments per hectare for land sharing practices. However, habitat creation schemes generate much higher environmental results per hectare, so the creation of forests, wetlands and shrublands would provide the same overall biodiversity and climate mitigation benefits at half the cost to the taxpayer.

“We found that enough farmers are willing to substantially change their business to benefit from payments for public goods in the form of habitats, provided they are adequately rewarded by the government for doing so,” Balmford said.

Collas, now a policy analyst at the Green Alliance, added: “Existing evidence already shows that semi-natural habitats provide much more biodiversity and climate mitigation per unit area, and creating them has much less impact on food production than meeting targets. through the land.” exchange.”

“This evidence is thrown out when thinking about farm policy in the UK because of an untested assumption that farmers are unwilling to create natural habitat. We now have evidence to show that this assumption is incorrect.”

More information:
Lydia Collas et al, Paying farmers to create forests and wetlands is the most cost-effective way to achieve UK environmental targets, study suggests, People and Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1002/pan3.10422

Provided by the British Ecological Society

Citation: Paying farmers to create forests and wetlands is the most cost-effective way to achieve UK environmental targets: study (20 December 2022) accessed 20 December 2022 at /2022-12-paying-farmers-forest-rentable-wetland.html

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