Landowners in the UK should be able to claim payments for “rewilding” schemes under Britain's post-Brexit farming policy, environmentalists have urged.
The British Government has plans for a system of “public money for public goods”, paying farmers and landowners for delivering benefits such as wildlife habitat, flood prevention, healthy soils and carbon storage on their land.
Under plans in legislation going through British Parliament, the “environmental land management” (ELM) scheme would replace the EU system of subsidies which are mostly paid for the amount of land farmed.
Environmental group Rewilding Britain wants to see rewilding, which involves large-scale restoration of landscapes, with natural processes and even missing species such as beavers reinstated, as an option in the ELM scheme.
On 30 June we are coming together for a virtual lobby, inviting you to ask MPs to put people, climate & nature at the heart of plans to rebuild from the Coronavirus crisis.— Rewilding Britain (@RewildingB) June 11, 2020
Join us here: https://t.co/EjLSPZzoKf#TheTimeisNow #BuildBackBetter pic.twitter.com/pWLGAxWSTC
The organisation said rewilding, which is becoming more popular among landowners, can deliver “public goods”, such as a boost to wildlife, water quality and carbon storage, at scale, efficiently and effectively.
It can also help farmers diversify their income into areas including “glamping” and eco-tourism to make their businesses more resilient and less reliant on subsidies, Rewilding Britain director Alastair Driver said.
Prof. Driver said rewilding in England still involves some kind of farming, with landowners delivering produce ranging from meat from a small number of free-ranging livestock to gin with juniper and other restored plants on the land.
He said: “The public goods that these projects are delivering, the reduced flood risk, the improved water quality, the improved carbon sequestration, the biodiversity, the health and wellbeing benefits, they are significant.
“And the bigger the scale you are operating at the more likely you are to make a difference.”
He said rewilding would fit in the top tier of the ELM scheme, which focuses on landscape-scale land-use change projects, and said it was a “genuine serious option” for managing land alongside regenerative or intensive farming.
It should be explicitly mentioned as an option in the ELM scheme, he said, adding:
It’s time we got over this false hurdle of it being something scary.
If it is not mentioned, elements of rewilding such as large scale tree planting and peat bog restoration would still take place, but it makes sense to do it all as a coordinated project.
He said: “If you’re doing lots of these interventions at scale in the same location you’re going to have a much bigger impact on the public goods and you’re going to be much more efficient.”
"We know from #rewilding examples in this country & overseas that when done properly, the benefits to biodiversity is phenomenal" - listen to how this conversation unfolds between our @AliDriverUK and @BratleyBruce over at @firstmile ↓↓https://t.co/tOc1Ybpuwa— Rewilding Britain (@RewildingB) June 11, 2020
In answer to critics of rewilding who are concerned it turns land from productive farming to wilderness, he said rewilded land was still productive and accounted for less than 1% of land in Britain.
Rewilding Britain wants to see that increase to 5% by 2100.
Prof. Driver also said concerns about food security were best addressed by tackling food waste throughout the system.
As the Agriculture Bill, the legislation which covers the changes, makes its way through the UK's House of Lords, Rewilding Britain is also calling for it to stick to the principle of “public money for public goods”, not paying for food production.
The organisation wants a trusted network of advisers set up to support the shift to the new system and high trade standards in law so British farmers are not undercut by cheap, damaging imports that would be illegal to produce here.