The UK has been told it needs to invest billions if it is to create a sustainable future for the country’s agriculture sector.
A new study published by a group of charities warned at least £4.4 billion a year must be invested in nature and climate-friendly farming by the UK and devolved governments over the next decade to meet legally binding commitments.
The charities say current incentive schemes fall short, and more ambition is needed to help farmers bring back nature and tackle climate change while producing food sustainably.
The report, An assessment of the financial resources needed for environmental land management in the UK, has been authored by an independent economist and reveals that the £4.4 billion annual figure needs to be directed solely towards agri-environment schemes that will allow the UK to achieve its net zero greenhouse gas emissions target on land, halt and reverse the catastrophic declines of nature, improve air and water quality, and look after our cultural heritage.
It added the UK government currently spends about £3.5 billion in total on agricultural subsidies each year.
According to the report, which was commissioned by the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust, the ‘scale of need’ has risen due to ongoing declines which have not been sufficiently tackled, leading to new environmental commitments and legally binding targets, most notably to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, factors such as the war in Ukraine and the associated cost of living crisis have led to significant changes in the cost drivers impacting UK agriculture.
Joan Edwards, director of public affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, explained: “The findings of this report are clear – the Treasury must back up political promises with more cash because we can’t continue to take nature for granted. Healthy soils, clean rivers, and thriving insect populations are crucial to our food security – and yet 1 in 9 species in the UK now face extinction and we continue to see nature declines in freefall.
“If we want to reverse this, then we must learn to value nature. This new report shows that a step change in investment from our Governments is badly needed to get wildlife into recovery and take action on land to address the climate crisis. We are calling on all UK Governments to ramp up support for farmers and land managers so they feel it’s worth taking action for nature.”
The report builds on two previous studies and underlines that investment in agri-environment schemes must be on par with the level of ambition required, with the £4.4 billion also needing to support farmers by funding the creation and restoration of priority habitats and wildlife, protecting soil and water resources, and expanding organic farming.
Katie-jo Luxton, RSPB director of conservation, added: “Recognising the scale of investment needed includes future proofing our farming system. Put simply, nature underpins our ability to produce food, and without a system resilient to the challenges of the nature and climate emergency, we put our own long term food security at risk.
“Farmers need certainty that the necessary policies and support are in place if they’re to produce healthy food while helping to reverse wildlife declines and restore the environment. We’re concerned current schemes are simply not on track to support farmers to deliver the level of change required.”
“Governments have a major opportunity to establish world-leading farming systems that are good for farmers, for people and for nature,” said Harry Bowell, director of Land and Nature at the National Trust. “But to do that, they must properly invest. As this report shows, the scale of need is growing, and decisive action is urgently needed to support farmers to bring back nature and tackle climate change while producing food sustainably.
“Instead of the uncertainty many are facing, farmers – and the wider public – need assurance that Government promises will translate into proper investment. This is a critical moment in the future of our countryside and politicians must step up.”