Rewetted area at RSPB Lake Vyrnwy Nature Reserve, Wales, (c) Ben Willcox (rspb-images.com)
In today’s blog, Jeff Knott, the RSPB's Director of Policy and Advocacy, introduces a new RSPB-led study which seeks to understand why a strategic approach to land use change across the UK is so vital to ensuring that we make the best use of our land.
UK land is currently under a lot of pressure. How do we ensure that we are doing the right things in the right places, in a way that is good for nature, climate, and for people? A new RSPB-led study, being published later today, explores some of the likely consequences of changing UK land use to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for nature recovery and agricultural output.
“Climate change and biodiversity loss are among the biggest medium to long term risks to UK domestic food production”. That was one of the conclusions of the UK Government’s UK Food Security report back in 2021. We know that we need nature to produce food and to help tackle the climate crisis. Yet just three weeks ago the latest State of Nature Report highlighted that much of our wildlife in the UK remains in serious trouble. Which – whilst obviously worrying in itself - also does not bode well for our future food security OR our ability to mitigate and adapt to our changing climate.
UK land is currently under a lot of pressure. We need it to deliver food and timber; contribute to net zero goals; and support the recovery of nature, among other demands. So we have a challenge on our hands. How do ensure that that we understand how we can grow enough food to eat, whilst also protecting and restoring biodiversity, and capturing and storing carbon?
A new RSPB-led study seeks to help us understand more about how different ways of using land in the future will impact on net greenhouse gas emissions, potential habitat for breeding birds, and production of food, timber, and biomass fuel. Through modelling different scenarios, we discovered that increased habitat creation and restoration could drastically cut UK emissions whilst also benefiting some species. And while nature-based solutions (NbS) aren’t a get out of jail free card – we need decarbonisation across all sectors - they will play an important role in addressing global climate and biodiversity challenges.
If land managers were enabled to deliver healthy ecosystems and the wider societal benefits that they provide - including climate change resilience, natural flood alleviation, improved soil health, fresh air, clean water, and the physical and mental health benefits from increased access to nature – we could address the nature and climate crises in tandem.
But if we are to increase ambition in delivery of NbS, we also need solutions for improving food security to ensure that we continue to produce enough food for people. This includes reducing waste (9.5 million tonnes of food is currently wasted in the UK every year, valued at over £19 billion), changes in the types of food we eat and grow, and a better alignment between food production and healthier and more sustainable diets. Alongside interventions via properly funded agri-environment schemes that support nature-friendly and low carbon farming - ensuring that all nature can thrive.
There are reasons for hope in the State of Nature Report. Support for nature-friendly farming has increased, as has the number of farmland schemes which are designed to benefit the environment. But nature-friendly farming needs to take place at a much wider scale. In order for such a transition to be achieved, we need the four governments of the UK to deliver policies and support that enable and empower land managers and farmers to deliver for nature, climate and people, maximising opportunities and minimising risks (see country blogs for more detail on what this means in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). We need a strategic approach to land use decision making across all four countries of the UK, focusing on sustainable production on the most productive land, and focusing on NbS where trade-offs are small and co-benefits high.
Nature’s recovery and natural solutions to climate change can be compatible with ensuring our food security if we use our land effectively. But if one thing is clear, it is that land use decisions are complex. There is no ‘one answer fits all’ to solving how land is used across the UK. But business as usual can no longer be an option.
We want decision makers to look at the results of this study and recognise that now is the time to have a conversation about how we reform the way we currently use land, ensuring all sides are heard, and with the buy-in of the communities affected. By making the right choices in the right places we can promote solutions that benefit both people and nature. You can explore more about this topic here.
- Land Use Scenarios Project
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