Environment money is key to upland's future, says the CLA

MORE trees, more bog, more wind turbines and less traditional livestock are among the ways forward proposed for the uplands by the Country Land & Business Association.

Anticipating a crucial year of debate over the future of the Common Agricultural Policy, the CLA has underlined its view that the era of subsidy for food production on marginal land is over.

Instead, the upland lobby has to concentrate on winning payments for environmental services such as keeping water sources clean, conserving peat and generating renewable energy, fuels and timber.

Its report endorses similar messages last year from the Commission for Rural Communities and Natural England and calls for a concerted push to be led by a government-appointed uplands champion.

The CLA report was written largely by its policy director, Allan Buckwell, an influential economics professor. CLA president William Worsley, manager of the Hovingham estates in North Yorkshire, says in a foreword: "The value of environmental services might well be larger or much larger than the value of the conventional direct outputs of hill farming."

The report, High Hopes, says:

"The uplands in England have the potential to be the first areas in the UK that are self-sufficient in energy because they are wettest and windiest."

"Seventy per cent of all UK drinking water is sourced from the uplands."

"Land management in upland areas can reduce the risk of flooding."

"At least 200 million tonnes of carbon are stored in peatlands in England's uplands and 400 million tonnes in Wales's. Natural England believes restoration of key peatlands could deliver emissions reductions equivalent to 4.4 per cent of the target."

The biggest single factor affecting whether peat releases CO2 or stores it is drainage, says the report. It quotes an estimate that for every pound spent on uplands stewardship, society gets benefits worth 3.27 in wildlife, landscape and carbon reduction. The figure could be much higher if water quality and flood protection were also economically valued.

With arguments like these, the report says, a case can be made for purchasing public goods from the uplands, as opposed to subsidising uneconomic farming.

"Less favoured areas" would become assets. And it should be possible to have a simpler international agreement on which agriculturally marginal areas deserve support and in what form.

However the support system is organised, it has to do more than it does at the moment, says the CLA. Current compensation for "income foregone" by avoidance of intensive agriculture is "miserably small" and farmers should be paid in recognition of what they could earn if they got out of farming.

The report acknowledges that traditional upland livestock rearing emits more greenhouse gases per tonne of product than intensive farming. But science is finding breeds better suited to the circumstances.

See www.cla.org.uk

Some of the changes called for

The report says private money could be enticed into carbon-saving investments like moorland forestry.

But the rules on qualification for carbon credits might have to be rewritten. And planners have to become much less resistant to change.

The shortcomings of the planning system are recurring themes. They get in the way of green power development, says the report. And so does the policy of charging generators the full cost of feed-in connections. The grid has to change to encourage them.

CW 8/1/11