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Paying farmers to restore nature could unlock ‘natural capital’

Cornish farmers could unlock ‘natural capital’ worth millions, report says. 

Natural capital refers to the benefits that humans get from nature, this can range from food, medicine, flood prevention to improved mental and physical health. 

The report, which was published by researchers at the University of Exeter examined the impact of paying farmers to restore nature. 

It sets out a ten-year plan that would create new natural capital worth between £3.7m and £15.8m. The researchers estimate that each £1 invested would bring a £3 return. 

Actions to be taken by farmers include restoring Cornish hedgerows, increasing the number of ponds and wetlands, and diversifying land use away from ‘monocultures.’

The plan also includes increasing woodlands and using more land for orchards, wood pasture and other tree-based farming. 

The overall aim of the scheme is to improve ‘engagement with the natural environment,’ this will be achieved partly by providing educational opportunities for schools, colleges, universities and other groups. 

cliff near seashore at daytime

Emma Browning, partnership manager of Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), said: ‘In Cornwall, there has been a 30% decline in farmland birds between 1994 and 2019, along with a reduction in butterflies associated with farmland.

‘152km of Cornish hedge and hedgerow has been lost. Overall, 41% of species have declined since 1970. Only 24% of rivers and 15% of lakes are in good ecological status.

‘Action is required immediately to halt the decline in our natural capital, to build back biodiversity, stabilise the climate, restore our soils and improve our rivers and seas.’

A test trial is underway in Lizard, this is part of ‘Farming for the Nation,’ a Defra-funded research scheme coordinated by the National Association of AONBs.

Cornwall AONB will be able to offer grants to farmers and landowners to deliver for people, place, nature and climate. These grants will come from Farming in Protected Landscapes, a new programme funded by Defra and delivered locally by Cornwall AONB.

Dr Grace Twiston-Davies, added: ‘Our report shows that positive investment can bring returns far in excess of the initial costs.

‘Producing food in an environmentally sustainable way is often not economically viable in the face of global markets without grants to support farming businesses.

‘The natural capital returns calculated here show the advantages of supporting these businesses to farm in this way.

‘Farmers in the Lizard have led the way in establishing ambitious objectives and targets for land management, which will result in landscape recovery in this unique and special area of Cornwall.’

Photo by Bill McBee

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