Could changing what we eat create a wilder Hampshire and Isle of Wight?

A new report from the Committee on Climate Change suggests that the UK should radically change the way we use land – reducing meat production and making more space for nature.

"I need more trees please. I think more nature would be greater"

Earlier this Autumn I was pleased to take part in an event in London for the first screening of the brilliantly short film, The UK in 100 seconds, by 'guerrilla geographer', Daniel Raven-Ellison. Made in partnership with Friends of the Earth and lyrically narrated by Benjamin Zephaniah, the film explains quickly and clearly the problem facing the UK and the challenge that the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has set out this week in their report ‘Land Use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change’.

Daniel Raven-Ellison/Friends of the Earth

Living space

Our nation manages to cram our growing population into just 5% of the land surface. We squeeze the space for nature too – with less than 15% of our counties protected and not all of this space providing luxurious homes for our wildlife.  Less than half of our sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) are in favourable condition and these areas are often too small and too isolated to support thriving species.  

Farmed landscape

Farmland in spring - Guy Edwardes/2020VISION

So what about the rest of the space - what do we do with it and what does it do for us?

27% of the UK land surface is currently used to grow arable crops and half of this is fed to livestock.  Nearly a third again – the biggest single use of land – is for cows and sheep.  This space is fulfilling (well, partially – as around 45% consumed is imported) our seemingly insatiable appetite for meat.

The Committee on Climate Change points out that this is contributing significantly to carbon emissions and helping in the drive towards runaway climate change, with all the disastrous knock on impacts for nature and human kind.

Greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural and land sat at 53 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2016, 11% of the UK total. The main sources are nitrous oxide and methane from soils and livestock.

cows

Time to change our ways?

The CCC report adds to other stark warnings we have heard recently about the urgency of this issue.  Lord Deben, chair of the committee, stated: “Land use is going to have to change very urgently if we are going to meet our climate change demands. This is a time of radical change, close to revolution.”

The committee does, however, point the Government towards a potential opportunity – with Brexit round the corner (correct at time of publishing) we have the chance to create a new vision for land use in the UK. 

We can reimagine our national relationship with food – producing what we need and what is good for us and the environment.  That might mean encouraging consumers to choose to eat less meat and looking at what else we can grow on our island that will provide for healthy citizens.  We can reimagine the relationship between farmers and government and farmers and nature. 

Proposed agricultural policy is moving us in the right direction, with the Government looking at potential models that reward public goods rather than public commodities.  The committee recommends paying farmers to reforest (or perhaps re-wild?) areas – actively reducing emissions and increasing carbon sequestration.   

Importantly, this approach would also help create the space and habitat that wildlife needs to recover.

 

It seems to me that everyone might win with this way forward.  The die-hard meat eater might need convincing to give up the mixed grill, but keep doing what we are doing and we risk the whole planet going up in smoke.