Farming in the Uplands - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability

  We would like to submit evidence that draws on research funded by the Rural Economy and Land Use programme's Sustainable Uplands project, and a draft report recently submitted to the IUCN UK Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands This in turn builds on a number of inputs we made to the CRC's Inquiry into the Future of England's Upland Communities and the Foresight Land Use Futures project.

  Broadly, we think that there are four ways in which Government could protect hill farmers, the upland communities they belong to and the ecosystem services they provide whilst saving taxpayers' money:

1.   Link agricultural payments more effectively to provision of ecosystem services:

    — Uplands provide important ecosystem services we do not currently pay land managers to provide, and provide a strong rationale for keeping people managing uplands.

    — "Payment by results" schemes expose land manager incomes to unnecessary risks (eg pests, weather) and monitoring costs are very high.

    — More money could be channelled through agri-environment schemes, targeted:

    — Towards locations that can most efficiently provide the ecosystem services we want (eg carbon from peatland restoration); and

    — At the relevant scales (eg catchment management), facilitating cross-boundary collaboration;

    — Targeting may increase efficiency: more ES for less taxpayers' money;

    — Models can guide spatial targeting

2.   Remove policy barriers to facilitate peatland restoration via carbon markets:

    — The simplest way is to introduce a UK Peatland Carbon Code to the GHG Accounting Guidelines: an independent mechanism to regulate CSR activity. This is urgently needed as a number of industry partnerships are already developing in the absence of regulation

    — In order to facilitate restoration at a larger scale, Defra/DECC could:

    — Create a registry for peatland restoration projects to access voluntary carbon markets (this carbon couldn't then be counted towards national targets); or

    — Create its own scheme, integrated with existing agri-environmental schemes (counted towards national targets)—cheaper than energy efficiency measures?

    — Peatland restoration could help meet climate mitigating and adaptation targets under UNFCCC as well as water and biodiversity targets under the Water Framework Directive and CBD goals

3.   Re-consider a levy on extractive uses of peat:

    — Ruled out previously as administrative costs outweigh returns: worth reconsidering?

    — According to Which?, the three top performing composts now are peat-free.

    — Defra follows the Ecosystems Approach, so decision should consider wider benefits of preventing peat-cutting (eg carbon, water quality, biodiversity).

    — Could significantly reduce administrative costs of incorporating peat levy into:

    — The existing Aggregates Levy

    — Community Infrastructure Levy to charge/discourage extraction via planning

4.   Establish a national partnership of upland researchers, policy makers and practitioners to share knowledge and develop a shared agenda for future research

    — Provide a one-stop shop for information and exchange to help researchers engage with stakeholders and identify research needs relevant to policy and practice (Current networks are region or sector specific).

    — Deliver more policy and practically relevant research: Provide a strong evidence base for development of effective peatland management to deliver government priorities, particularly in relation to climate change, biodiversity, water and soil objectives.

    — More efficient: combining functions from multiple networks, avoiding research duplication, to and promoting new collaborations for integrated assessments.

October 2010

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