As I’ve written here, I see Natural Areas – large, intact semi-natural landscapes – as being assembled through private-public-community partnerships. That’s farmers, public landowners, communities and the charity sector working together to deliver benefits from our countryside, with substantial public support because the public stand to gain. This isn’t land abandonment or a response to it. Rather, it’s an active collaboration between various landowners, land managers and communities within an area to rebuild nature at scale through collective action.
One role for Government is to incentivise such collaborations. We already invest tax-payers money in the countryside through basic Pillar I farm support and Pillar II agri-environment payments for wildlife-friendly farming. Post-CAP, I see wildlife-friendly farming producing high-quality food dominating the British countryside, and new Natural Areas embedded within this.
I suggest that, alongside this support for food and wildlife-friendly farming, the Government should devise a new Natural Areas Stewardship Scheme, offering payments to groups of collaborators wishing to create new Natural Areas.
The NAS Scheme could deliver the following:
- Biomass Carbon: payments for the sequestration and storage of carbon in vegetation and soils.
- Water attenuation at source: taking advantage of the ‘roughness’ of natural vegetation, water is intercepted where it hits the ground, reducing rapid run-off.
- Water stored downstream: there’ll continue to be run-off of course – that’s why we have floodplains – and payments would reward participants for the area of floodplain made available to store this water.
- Soil protection: cultivated and excessively poaches soils lose soil when it rains; reinstating natural vegetation cover can dramatically reduce this (notwithstanding that some soil movement is caused by natural processes, such as wild animals, storm events etc)
- Quality of life enhancement: by providing accessible, natural landscapes fo people.
Each Natural Area will deliver these things across its whole area, as a ‘basket’ of co-benefits. I suggest therefore that payments should be very simple: a rate per hectare of natural habitat protected or created. Payments could be scaled, being higher per unit area the more land that is entered. Agreements could be long-term, say 30 years, with a lump-sum paid at the end of each contract term if a new 30-year contract is entered into.
Groups wishing the enter the NAS Scheme will need to devise Project Plans, perhaps similar to those prepared for projects seeking validation under the Communities, Carbon and Biodiversity Standards and Verified Carbon Standards.