Part of the Public Sector News Network

Countryside must change to prepare for climate change, experts warn

The Government needs to prepare the countryside for climate change, according to a new report out today (15 November).

The report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warns that ministers need to adopt a new land-use policy to ‘promote radically different’ uses of UK land.

This includes increased tree planting, improved forest management, restoration of peatlands, and shifts to low-carbon farming practices, which improve soil and water quality.

According to the CCC, these will help to reduce flood risk and improve the condition of semi-natural habitats such as woodlands and wetlands.

It also calls on the Government to help farmers and land managers find alternative uses of land and provide support for high up-front costs and financing to aid the transition.

In a separate report, also published today, the CCC argues that the UK should aim to increase the volume of carbon stored in our forests and land.

It adds the supply of sustainable biomass harvested from UK sources should also increase. Government must increase tree-planting from 9000 hectares per year on average to 20,000 hectares by 2020 and 27,000 hectares by 2030, and extend this further to 2050. This should go alongside planting energy crops on low-quality land.

‘Land is our most precious natural asset but the way we use land in this country needs fundamental reform,’ said commission chair, Lord Deben.

‘We must ensure our use of land helps to reduce the emissions that are warming our atmosphere. We must also improve the resilience of the land to climate change.

‘We need a new conversation about the role that biomass can play in helping to meet the UK’s climate change targets. If supply of biomass is more strictly governed, its use can be sustainable and it can play an essential role in reducing emissions, locking away carbon in plants and soils. Unsustainable supplies of biomass have no place in our future energy mix.’

Responding to the publication of the reports, Friends of the Earth campaigner, Guy Shrubsole said: ‘This is a wake-up call for a complacent government that we must completely transform the way we use land, to avoid climate breakdown and make space for nature.

‘As the CCC says, we need to free up land from agriculture by eating much less meat and dairy, and stop landowners burning and degrading peat bogs – our single biggest carbon store.

‘We also need to reforest far more of Britain than the government’s current puny tree-planting targets – going beyond what this report calls for and doubling forest cover to lock-up carbon and help prevent floods.’

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Huw Jones
2 years ago

I believe that climate change is now at an extremely dangerous phase. As a farmer who has worked as an ecologist, I can see the damage climate change is doing all around me. It wont be long before our ability to produce enough food is seriously hampered. (At the moment local crops are wiped out by floods and droughts, and animals are subject to disease that have never been seen in the UK before. But climate predictions and what we know about natural ecology suggests that it is going to get a lot worse – all we don’t now is the time-scale.) The science was well known back in the 1970s, and some of the most dangerous tipping points in our ability to influence climate change, predicted then. are already happening. These are the loss of polar ice and melting of the Tundra and subsequent release of methane. So I am completely in favour of doing something about it. But whatever we do must be practical at the level where the work must be done. So far most of the recommendations I have seen for farming, are very likely to have the opposite effect to that which is intended. But while there are only about a third of the farmers in the UK now than there were back in the 1970s, and very few people in the industry have the time to speak out about silly rules. We have to remember, too, that the old Farm Management courses were abandoned back in the 1980s, so that while a lot of people still have “Agricultural Degrees” very few have any training or experience of the hugely complex business of farming. Just as an illustration, farm management courses used to cover abut 40 academic disciplines, while and agricultural degree probably covers less than 4. But farming is where human ecology meets our habitat, and you should not expect simple solutions to work everywhere that people farm.