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Government urged to make tackling climate and nature crises a top farming resolution

Environmentalists, farmers and scientists are calling on the Government to put tackling our climate and nature crises at the top of their New Year’s farming resolutions.

8 January 2020

Environmentalists, farmers and scientists are all calling on the Government to put tackling our climate and nature crises at the top of their New Year’s resolutions.[1] The calls come as new YouGov research[2] conducted on behalf of Wildlife and Countryside Link, reveals that the public are challenging the farming sector to do more to tackle climate change and nature’s decline.

The new polling shows that 92% of the public think it is important that farmers focus on tackling the climate and nature crises[3], but only a fifth (22%) believe that farming has actually reduced its impact in the last five years. More than half (54%) believe the UK farming sector has made either no improvement or has had a more negative impact on climate change in the last five years.[4] To increase public confidence in farming, the sector needs support and certainty from Government through progressive policies and investment. Current government policies offer limited support for wildlife and carbon friendly farming practices, and this needs to change.

The Government has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, while the National Farmers’ Union has set a target for net zero carbon emissions from agriculture by 2040. Farming currently contributes at least 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions, but with 70% of England’s land area being farmed, it also has a huge and unique opportunity to create natural solutions to our climate and nature crises. The Government must make net zero farming and land use a top priority in order to meet, or better still exceed, the 2050 target, starting by bringing back the Agriculture Bill as soon as possible and retaining its focus on delivering public goods like carbon capturing and nature conservation.

Environmental leaders, farming innovators and scientific experts are meeting today and tomorrow (Weds 8 Jan and Thurs 9 Jan) at the Oxford Real Farming Conference to discuss practical solutions to making our farming fit to meet the enormous scale of our nature and climate change challenges.[5]

Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link said: ‘Our climate depends on soil as much as oil. The UK cannot achieve net zero without farmers. Farm emissions are part of the problem, but farms are also part of the solution. Better land management is the key to locking up carbon.

‘Nine out of ten members of the public want farmers to play their part. So, Government must put the policies in place to help farmers become net zero heroes. That means guaranteeing long-term funding for public goods beyond this Parliament. It also means a clear roadmap for agricultural transition, starting in 2021 and ending in 2028 with a system that will be generous in its support for environmental public goods, so that farmers can plan now for a net zero carbon future.’

Tim Benton, Director of Energy, Environment and Resources at Chatham House and co-author of the IPCC’s 2019 Special Report on Food, Land and Climate, said: ‘We urgently need to get our carbon chequebook balanced if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. Farmland has a key role to play in storing carbon, just as it is currently a key emitter of greenhouse gases, and, if done well, can benefit wildlife as well as reduce flood risk. We need supportive government policy to achieve the best outcomes for farmers, people generally, and the planet.’

Martin Lines, Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: ‘Now is the time for nature friendly farming to become mainstream. Unless we urgently transition to a farming system that produces sustainable food, reduces emissions, restores habitats and sequesters carbon, farmer livelihoods and future food production will be threatened, and the impacts of climate change will escalate. Farmers are key to addressing climate crisis and wildlife decline - but urgent government support is needed to take nature friendly farming to scale.’

Helen Chesshire, Chair of the Wildlife and Countryside Agriculture Group and Senior Farming Adviser at Woodland Trust, said: ‘Farmers, environmentalists and the public are all sending a clear message to the Government that we need to prioritise natural farming solutions in the battle against climate change. Farmers are the guardians of our countryside and as such are uniquely placed to make changes that can help turn our climate and nature crises around. If the Government truly want to be environmental world leaders, they must make the most of the once in a lifetime opportunity the Agriculture Bill and post-Brexit policy presents to fix our broken farming system and make it sustainable.’

Additional quotes from Greenpeace UK and the Soil Association can be found here

Research with 500 farmers by Wildlife and Countryside Link last year showed that environmental action within the farming sector is, on the whole, restricted, despite 80% of farmers believing that the health of the natural environment is important or very important for their farm business.[6] A third of farmers reported taking no environmental action to deal with problems on their farms, with 44% undertaking one or two environmental activities, and only one in five undertaking three or more.

Farmers say the main reasons for inaction on environmental and other improvements are a lack of access to capital and uncertainty caused by Brexit.[7] It is therefore vital that the Government give certainty on the funding and advice that will be available to farmers for the next decade, in order to give farmers the confidence they need to invest in reducing their impact on climate change and improving nature on the land that they manage.

Environmental and farming experts are making three key asks of the Government on farming policy this year, to:
Progress the Agriculture Bill swiftly through Parliament, with public goods, such as the environment, animal welfare and public access, remaining its central focus, and start the transition to this new system in 2021.
Guarantee a budget of at least £3bn per year for the next 10 years, to be invested in public goods, enabling farmers and land managers to have the certainty they need to invest in improving nature, animal welfare, public access and their impact on climate change
Ensure that future trade deals and legislation maintain or improve environmental and animal welfare requirements, preventing a ‘race to the bottom’ in competing with countries with lower standards


Notes to Editors:

1. The following 16 organisations and individuals, co-ordinated byWildlife and Countryside Link (the biggest environmental and animal welfare coalition in England), support these findings and calls to action: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Badger Trust, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Earthwatch, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace UK, Nature Friendly Farming Network, Plantlife, Rare Breeds Survival Trust, RSPB, Sustain, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, and WWF-UK

2. An online omnibus poll with 2140 UK adults was conducted by YouGov on behalf of Wildlife and Countryside Link between 18-19 December 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+)

3. 92% of the 2140 adults polled felt that it is fairly important or very important for UK farmers to take action to restore our wildlife, woodlands, and countryside in order to tackle climate change and nature's decline. 4% said it was not important and 4% were unsure

4. Of those surveyed, 22% believe that farmers have made a positive impact on climate change in the last 5 years, 29% believe farming impact on climate change has remained the same, 25% said it has had a negative impact, and 24% were unsure

5. On Weds 8 Jan 12-1pm, Professor Tim Benton from Chatham House/ the IPCC, Martin Lines of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, Phil Jarvis of the NFU Environment Forum, Caroline Lucas MP, and environment NGOs discuss how to ensure a net zero farming future which tackles our nature and climate crises on Wednesday 8 January.

On Thursday 9 January 2.30-3.30pm, David Kennedy, Director-General of Future Farming and Biosecurity, Defra, farmers and environmental experts will be sharing some of the new Government’s priorities for the sector. Ellie Brodie of the Wildlife Trusts, Patrick Barker a Nature Friendly Farming Network farmer, Jyoti Fernandez, farmer and Landworkers’ Alliance member, and Adrian Steele, farmer and Soil Association representative, will join David to discuss the current state of play on farming policy.

6. Please see our press release, research report and dataset for more detail and further findings from the research published in June 2019. Other key Wildlife and Countryside Link findings included:
● Two thirds of farmers say regulation is important or very important to protect standards in the farming industry
● Half (50%) of farmers agree with the principle of ‘public money for public goods’ (one third are neutral, and one in five disagree with the principle)
● Increased weather volatility, e.g. flood and drought caused by climate change, is the second most commonly reported problem facing farmers (affecting 40%), second only to increased costs and reduced profit margins (affecting 51%)

7. Of those surveyed 41% of farmers experienced lack of access to funds and 41% were struggling to make changes due to Brexit (Wildlife and Countryside Link survey, 2019)

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