Analysis by the Green Alliance and the National Trust recommends upland farmers use water management contracts with utility firms, infrastructure groups and public agencies in areas susceptible to flooding as a means of raising income in a post Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) environment.
According the report, these natural infrastructure scheme (NIS) contracts would involve the farmers carrying out environmental infrastructure developments like soil aeration, tree planting or creating attenuation ponds to reduce flood risk or water quality problems on their land.
It predicts farmers could earn more than £15,000 in profit a year by entering into such agreements.
The report includes a hypothetical example of 10 upland farms in the north west, which could use 10% of their combined land to protect a downstream town against a severe one in 75-year flood, and cut levels of water pollution at the same time.
It claims the scheme would jointly cost the ten farmers around £6.53m over 15 years to create and maintain it, which includes the lost income from taking land out of agricultural use.
While it would cost £11.2m for utility companies, local authorities and other agencies to provide the same level of protection.
Based on these estimates, the natural infrastructure scheme would save £4.7m compared to a ‘business as usual’ option.
Splitting this saving equally would give the group of buyers a cost saving of £2.35m over 15 years, and the farmers would earn £15,658 each a year over the same time period.
‘The natural infrastructure scheme concept is economically viable and has so much to offer for farmers, businesses and communities at risk of flooding, as well as being environmentally beneficial,’ said Green Alliance executive director, Shaun Spiers.
‘It’s amazing it hasn’t been thought of before,’ he added. ‘By facilitating this market, the government could help support some of our most vulnerable farmers through the Brexit transition, improve the resilience of vital infrastructure at lower cost, and improve the environmental health of some of our most historic landscapes, without increasing the burden on the public purse.’
The National Trust’s rural enterprises director, Patrick Begg, said such contracts could ‘open up new avenues for business to play its part in restoring a healthy, functioning natural environment’.
‘We need to grab this chance to make farming fit for the future, whilst safeguarding our countryside for future generations,’ he added.
The report was published as an academic called for a radical shift towards more sustainable farming and allotments as the UK leaves the EU.
Speaking at the British Science Festival in Brighton, Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex, said industrial farming methods are ‘wiping out wildlife’ and contributing ‘hugely to climate change’.
‘There is exciting potential to rejuvenate farming in Britain without the need to seek agreement from 27 other member states,’ said Professor Goulson.
‘There is the opportunity to do something really radical and move away from industrial farming, revive rural communities and get many more people back into growing local, healthy food.
‘The failure to move to a more sustainable system now could have drastic consequences within 50 years. Farmland bird populations have fallen by 58% since 1970, butterflies are now scarce and some bees have gone extinct,’ he added.
Photo by Broo_am (Andy B)