The Government’s failure to properly support nature-based solutions risks undermining the agricultural sector and net zero ambitions, a House of Lords report has warned.
Nature-based solutions are designed to work with the grain of nature to achieve a range of benefits, including improved biodiversity, flood alleviation, better livelihoods for local communities and emissions reductions.
Ministers have bold plans to deploy nature-based solutions in order to meet their environmental targets, particularly through the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme which will reward farmers for delivering public goods.
But the Science and Technology Committee suggested they were unlikely to deliver as few details of how they will work in practice had been developed.
The peers also pointed out more funding would be required in several areas, such as practical field monitoring and trials with farmers, basic science in soil and carbon sequestration and an accelerated skills programme.
At the moment, the UK does not have the skills to deliver nature-based solutions at scale – a fact acknowledged by the Government – but there has been no formal assessment of the skills needed.
The report said: “Those responsible for farming the UK’s land need to be fully engaged; around 72 per cent of the UK’s land is farmed.
“They need a training and advisory service to help them negotiate a new and complex funding landscape, and support to change farming methods where appropriate.
“Tenancy agreements may need to change to make shifts in land use possible. Furthermore, farmers need long-term funding, and they need to be engaged in on-farm research. Nature-based solutions in support of net zero emissions will not work without the support of farmers and land managers.”
The committee went on to suggest the UK could end up relying on food and timber imports if the Government did not show how it would manage the many competing demands on land.
This echoes a warning issued by the Public Accounts Committee earlier this month, which said the ELM scheme risked putting domestic food production at risk by, for example, converting farmland to forestry.
The peers’ report said: “Land is used to produce food and timber, to provide space for nature, to alleviate flood risk, to provide space for housing, infrastructure and other development, as well as to sequester and retain carbon.
“We did not hear evidence that the Government has an effective plan for reconciling these competing demands. Failure to do so risks relying on increased imports for food or timber and offshoring emissions and environmental degradation elsewhere.”