Thursday, January 02, 2020

Re-wilding Britain

Prof Sir Ian Boyd spent seven years at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as its chief scientific adviser. He suggests  half of the nation’s farmland needs to be transformed into woodlands and natural habitat to fight the climate crisis and restore wildlife. Such a change could mean the amount of cattle and sheep would fall by 90%, with farmers instead being paid for storing carbon dioxide, helping prevent floods and providing beautiful landscapes where people could boost their health and wellbeing. Prof Boyd said the public were subsidising the livestock industry to produce huge environmental damage. Half of farmland, mostly uplands and pasture, produces just 20% of the UK’s food and would be better for used other public goods, he said.

 Farmland covers 70% of the UK, meaning that converting half to woodlands and parks would create new landscapes across a third of the country. 

“Most of the livestock production in the UK is unprofitable without public subsidy,” said Boyd. “The public are subsidising the production of livestock to produce huge environmental damages, all the way from greenhouse gas emissions to water pollution. Why should we continue to do that? It’s not sensible."

Farmers were potentially “sitting on a goldmine” in terms of the payments they could receive for growing trees and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Farmers should be paid for changing the way land is used, he said. Current subsidies are largely based on the amount of land owned.

He said: “We need a large, radical transformation and we need to do it quickly, in the next decade. You can tick an immense number of boxes simultaneously.” Boyd said: “This proposal is not about being negative about farmers. It’s about being positive about their futures and helping them to adapt and continue providing support for society, but in a different way from in the past.”
Farmers argue that uplands and pasture where livestock are reared cannot be used to grow crops. 
But Boyd said: “It would be much better to store carbon and water, grow trees and make the land available for people to improve their health and welfare.” He said the 20% of food production lost by converting half of farmland could be made up by the development of vertical farms, where food is produced indoors in controlled and more efficient conditions. Boyd said: “I know there are big companies looking at how to really scale this up.”
People could reduce the meat they eat by 90% and have a perfectly balanced diet, Boyd said: “Freeing up 50% of the land would probably result in a reduction in the amount of livestock by about that amount, because it would be mostly livestock land we would be taking out of production.”

In May, a report from Rewilding Britain called for a quarter of the nation to be returned to natural habitat.

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