Pay farmers to restore habitat on least productive farmland, think tank says

A system of subsidies would cut carbon, boost farmers income and would increase wild bird populations by 50% by 2050, Green Alliance says.

By The Independent

Paying farmers to restore natural habitat on England’s least productive land would both boost their income and increase wild bird populations by almost 50% by 2050, according to a new study.

Environmental think tank Green Alliance is calling for the Government to allocate £600 million of the £2.4 billion annual farming budget to restoring peatland, heathland and woodland. The poorest quality land produces just 0.5% of the food we eat, and in its study Green Alliance found incentivising farmers to return it to nature would boost their income from it by 20%. Seventy percent of England’s land is used for agriculture, and the industry accounts for about 12% of greenhouse gas emissions for the UK overall.

The report Land of Opportunity, published on Monday, said that the plan also had the potential to deliver over half the carbon savings needed from agriculture and land use by 2035. To hit net zero across the whole economy, land use must be carbon negative before 2050, according to research by the Government’s advisory body on climate change. Green Alliance said its plan for a “three pronged” agricultural system would help farmers as they try and navigate soaring fuel and fertiliser costs, as well as record heat and unprecedented drought. Under the system, the least productive land would be used to provide greenhouse gas removal and to expand habitat for wildlife. The second prong would see the majority of food grown on the most fertile land, with farmers supported to reduce fertiliser and pesticide use to boost sustainability without lowering yields. Lastly, farmers of the remaining land would be offered incentives to create more space for nature, even if it results in a fall in production.

It is projected that habitat restoration would see the population of bird species increase by 48% on average, compared to a 6% decline under England’s current trajectory.

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