Farmers concerned after calls to convert 50% of UK farmland to nature

Posted on 6 Jan 2020
Farmers concerned after calls to convert 50% of UK farmland to nature

There has been concern among farmers after comments made by the former chief scientist of Defra, the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs. According to Prof Sir Ian Boyd, half of the country’s farmland needs to be transformed into woodland and natural habitat in order to combat the climate crisis and declining wildlife numbers. 

Calls to lose 90% of farming land

Speaking to the Guardian, Boyd, who stepped down from his government role last August after 7 years in the post, indicates this change would mean losing 90% of the UK’s cattle and sheep. Instead of livestock, he suggests farmers should instead be paid for storing carbon dioxide, helping prevent floods and providing rural spaces where people can go to relax and improve their mood and wellbeing. He claims that “half of farmland, mostly uplands and pasture, produces just 20% of the UK’s food and would be better used for other public goods,” and that “the public are subsidising the production of livestock to produce environmental damage, all the way from greenhouse gas emissions to water pollution.” 

Drastic action needed to stop climate change 

He goes on to say that farmers were “sitting on a goldmine”, which refers to the payments they could receive for planting trees and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The reason behind his arguments is that “we need a large, radical transformation and we need to do it quickly, in the next decade.” Indeed, the meat industry has one of the largest carbon footprints and studies have shown that those in developed countries need to eat less meat in order to tackle climate change and improve their health. 

Widespread criticism from farmers

The former chief scientist’s controversial comments have been met with widespread criticism in the farming industry. Indeed, the National Farmers Union (NFU) doesn’t believe such drastic measures are needed, as highlighted in their recently published plans to stop their carbon emissions by 2040 without reducing beef production or converting large areas of farmland to nature. The NFU has said it will do this by growing plant fuel for power stations and then capturing and burying the carbon dioxide. 

Farmers warn of potential consequences 

The NFU’s deputy president agreed with some of Boyd’s comments: “urgent action is needed to tackle the climate emergency. British farmers are already some of the most sustainable in the world. For example, the beef produced in Britain is already 2.5 times more efficient than the global average. And they are committed to doing even more.” However, he goes on to warn that “we will not halt climate change by curbing sustainable, British production and exporting it to countries which may not have the same climate ambition as we do here.”


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