Cap reform must pay farmers for ecosystem services

Farmers should be paid to protect the ecosystems on their land, says Professor David Hill of the Environment Bank.

The fact that landowners and conservationists are now collaborating in trying to ensure that a reformed Common Agricultural Policy will protect and allow sustainable management of the farmed landscape and natural environment is great.

However, additional sources of funds could be used to safeguard the ecosystems of the future.

We at the Environment Bank, a new organisation established to facilitate the delivery of mitigation and compensation schemes associated with planned development, believe that the CAP reform must pay farmers for environmental goods and 'ecosystem services' - high quality water, good soil and nutrient management, flood management, landscape diversity and an abundant wildlife, but other sectors will also need to contribute if we are to 'stitch back the fabric of the countryside' to provide our environmental needs, including adaptation to climate change, as well as our need for high quality food.

We believe that payment for ecosystem services, rather than an income subsidy, is the only way to ensure wildlife and landscape is improved in the farmed environment.

In addition, we believe that the planning and development sector has a role to play in providing additional income streams to farmers and landowners by the setting up of environmental markets where credits are purchased by developers to offset the inability of developed land to deliver ecosystem services in the future," Hill continued.

The Environment Bank has already received huge support from farmers, landowners and policy makers for its ideas on mitigation banking as an important long-term contributor to the quality of the natural environment on which we all rely.

An industry called Mitigation Banking has been running in the United States for over 20 years and in 2008 provided $3 billion of funding for long-term environmental projects concerned with wetlands alone, not far short of the £2.5 billion paid to farmers annually under the Single Farm Payment, and nearly five times more than is paid to farmers annually in agri-environment schemes.

The vast majority of farmers and landowners are conscious of the importance of maintaining a healthy environment across their farmland whilst providing the food needed.

Those that have already signed up to agri-environment schemes, such as entry and higher level stewardship, have demonstrated their interest in farming in an environmentally sustainable way.

'Less Favoured Areas' or 'Severely Disadvantaged Areas' in the uplands of Britain could be renamed as areas of High Nature Value as they are in other parts of Europe and could be targeted for mitigation banking, as they hold some of the best natural habitats and environments, provide a wide range of ecosystem services and are the most difficult to farm.

The new Environment Bank has been set up to provide an intelligent way of increasing the quality of the natural and wider environment in the UK by promoting, creating and restoring habitats to further the objectives of nature conservation and other 'ecosystem services' we derive from the land.

National strategy and policy now requires the planning system not only to mitigate the effects of development on the natural environment, but also to deliver nature conservation enhancements. The Environment Bank Ltd provides a mechanism for creating, managing and enhancing habitats and landscapes by facilitating mutually beneficial arrangement between developers and landowners.

The remit of The Environment Bank is to:

  • Champion, in association with identified stakeholders, an improved approach to land-use planning, reconciling conflicts between development and the natural environment
  • Further the conservation of the natural environment in association with planned development through habitat creation, site restoration, enhancement and management at a landscape scale
  • Bring together funds from the development process and to identify suitable places and managers to establish gains to the natural environment on a long-term sustainable basis.

    Professor David Hill has significant experience in consultancy, company business strategy, nature conservation and natural resources, and established one of the first environmental consultancy companies in the UK. He is Chairman of The Environment Bank Ltd and was previously Chief Scientific Adviser to RPS Group plc. David is a Fellow and past President of the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and has published extensively on ecological and environmental issues.

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