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Image credit: Victoria Hume, Sussex Wildlife Trust
10 | Rural Outlook Issue 21
Don’t rest on your laurels
(or any other type of tree)
Planting a few trees won’t get you off the hook when
it comes to playing a part in tackling the climate crisis.
That’s the stark message from Henri Brocklebank,
Director of Conservation Policy and Evidence with
the Sussex Wildlife Trust.
Interviewed exclusively for this edition
of Rural Outlook, Henri addressed the
important issue of climate change and
what farmers and landowners can
do both to mitigate and adapt to the
effects of our changing climate.
“It’s important to stress that everyone
can make a difference, and farmers
don’t necessarily need to go in for
a wholesale transformation of their
businesses,” says Henri. “Some will want
to adjust their entire approach and adopt
regenerative methods of farming, but
those who take a more cautious view
can still make a big difference.
“The thing to bear in mind is that while
nature-based solutions can and will play
a big part in mitigating the impacts of
climate change, landowners and farmers
need to take ownership of the problem
of CO2 levels in the context of their own
operations and take urgent steps to
reduce their emissions.
“If you are lucky enough to live on a big
estate, it’s easy to think that the grass
and trees on your land will do the job
of locking up carbon for you, but that’s
just avoiding the issue. To make a real
difference you need to make a positive
change in your own practices. Naturebased solutions are secondary.
“If nature has given you a head start,
thenyou are in a privileged position –
but you still have to do your bit, and
planting a few trees won’t get you off
Reducing fertiliser use is just one way
in which farmers can improve their
soil’s ability to capture carbon, while
tackling compaction also has a number
of benefits, including helping it retain
moisture, which will also reduce carbon
emissions. Reducing diesel use, installing
solar PV and cutting fuel miles are other
And the alternative isn’t really an option,
as Henri points out. “Four degrees of
global warming, which is where our global
trajectory is pointing, would be catastrophic.
This is not just about farmers in India or
the Amazon but about farmers globally,
including here in South East England.”
“Sussex Wildlife Trust cannot use the
sequestration value of its land, much of
which is ancient woodland, to claim that
it is already at net zero. That misses the
point. The key principle is for landowners
not to focus on the final carbon balance
but on the reduction of the emissions
and the increase in sequestration.”
Henri believes that while they need support,
expert advice and, in some cases, cash
incentives, landowners and managers are
keen to do the right thing. The Government,
she believes, is also moving in the
right direction, with the Environment
Bill expected to include a mandate for
nature recovery networks (NRN) to be
introduced throughout the UK.
“If you are lucky enough to
live on a big estate, it’s easy
to think that the grass and
trees on your land will do
the job of locking up carbon
for you, but that’s just
avoiding the issue.”
“NRNs will come under the authority of
county councils or other statutory bodies,
which will be expected to develop local
nature recovery strategies and develop
policies that will support those networks
and link to other land use policies.
“Legislative processes haven’t kept
abreast of ecological need in the past,
and I am hopeful that these networks
will make a real difference.
Agriculture | 11
The new Environmental Land
Management Scheme (ELMS) is
also likely to make a big difference
by providing a range of incentives to
farmers and landowners aimed at
delivering ‘public goods’ such as lower
emissions and a reduced risk of flooding.
While Henri believes that the likes
of NRNs and ELMS will make a
difference, she doesn’t underestimate
the need to take immediate action.
“Business as usual will trash global
warming predictions,” she warns. “The
level of change needed cannot be
underestimated. We need to start now.”
Henri also believes farmers should
be looking to work more closely with
nature. “If you have an area of land that
is marginal because it’s a bit boggy, why
not create a wetland habitat?” she asks.
“Remember that the climate crisis and
ecological crisis are inextricably linked.
“Not only is creating a new wetland area
a good thing to do, but it’s just the kind of
small-scale habitat stepping stone that
ELMS could pay for – and there may be
other funding available from the likes of
Natural England or a wildlife trust.”
active in your catchment,” Henri explains.
“Interventions generally don’t impact on
the farming business and this is another
area where ELMS is likely to help.
“Four degrees of global
warming, which is where
our global trajectory
is pointing, would be
catastrophic. This is not
just about farmers in India
or the Amazon but about
farmers globally, including
here in the South East.”
“If you have streams running through
woodland, there are plenty of ways in
which you can slow the flow. You could
also make good use of the water by
creating a feature that benefits your land,
as well as reducing silt and turbidity.
For those thinking on a larger scale,
reintroducing beavers – under licence –
is another way of using nature’s ecosystem engineers to benefit the wider
environment, improve water quality
and prevent flooding, while reducing
compaction, perhaps by switching to
mob grazing, also increases the soil’s
ability to hold water and store carbon.
“Holding back water also improves the
land’s drought resilience by keeping wet
areas wetter for longer, and wet areas
drying out can be net emitters of carbon
dioxide,” Henri adds.
“Tree planting is good for a variety of
reasons, but remember the interaction
with ecology and make sure you plant
the right trees to attract wildlife. Ask
the Woodland Trust for advice.
“It’s also vital to allow for the natural
regeneration of woodland and think
about genetic diversity, which is critical
to the health of your trees.
Adapting to the impacts of climate
change is increasingly about dealing with
changing rainfall patterns that have seen
both flooding and periods of drought
become more common.
“Everyone can make a difference,
however small, and if you think your
land has the potential for something
really exciting, start talking to your
advisers now. There is funding available
not just potentially from ELMS but under
Water Framework Directive schemes
and other local sources.”
Natural flood management is the
practice of slowing the flow of water
within a catchment, something that is
already being given a high priority by the
Environment Agency, working alongside
wildlife trusts and other stakeholders.
“If you want to help reduce flooding
pressures downstream, talk to your
wildlife trust about which organisation is
“We also encourage farmers to replace
hedgerows where they intercept
flowpaths, as hedges deliver an
extraordinary increase in water take up.
Intercepting flowpaths also improves
Henri Brocklebank, Sussex Wildlife Trust
Image credit: Miles Davies, Sussex Wildlife Trust