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A New Approach

A New Approach: Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services

‘We know the cost of everything but the value of nothing’

There is now great opportunity to secure your farm’s futures and a chance to invest in natural capital by building resilience and mitigating risk against climate change. Suffolk FWAG have been busy expanding and repositioning our services to ensure we are at the forefront of this Agri-environmental change and will continue to provide and deliver trusted and relevant advice to you.

2018 was a year of surprising change. The result has left many farmers suspended in a period of unknown and uncertain transition – wondering where and how to invest and develop more sustainable farming practices whilst minimising risk against climate change. All this must be considered to ensure profitable and healthy production continues but not at the cost of the environment, clearly outlined in the governments ‘Health & Harmony’ 25 Year Plan. Political change with BREXIT is also set against a backdrop of increasing environmental change – the Summer of 2018 saw extensive drought and heat. It is not so much change itself that affects farming but more the speed, rate and duration of change.

Navigating a way through these uncertain times requires robust farm planning, which in turn requires good understanding of a whole farm approach coupled with the complex dynamics facing farming today. As you, yourselves have made clear – there is a need for meaningful, on the ground ‘advice and guidance’ – a job unique to Suffolk FWAG.

So how do we manage farming within periods of highly dynamic and unpredictable change?

The answer – A New Approach, one that requires a different way of thinking. In the words of Einstein ‘you cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it in the first place’

Facing uncertainty requires the ability to adapt to current and future change. The ability to adapt requires ‘resilience’. What does resilience look like, particularly in the farmed landscape?

It is called ‘Natural Capital’. The quantity and quality of your farms natural capital will determine how well your farms function during times of ‘unseen’ stress and unpredictable change. Intact ecosystems ‘function’ and have the ability to absorb shock and change. However, many farm practices erode natural capital thereby reducing the capacity of ecosystems and the services that nature provides for free. This ability to ‘function’ will ensure your farms don’t crack and become brittle under economic, social and environmental change. Protecting, restoring and creating natural capital across the whole farm is termed: ‘building resilience’. This new approach responds to the governments ‘public money for public goods’. In essence, financially rewarding farmers who provide public benefits such as flood alleviation, healthy soils, clean water and high biodiversity. Suffolk FWAG can assist and advise you in positioning your farms for this alternative approach.

We will be promoting a series of events and workshops over the next year – an opportunity for you to learn, engage and share knowledge amongst the farming community. We will also be launching a new service involving natural capital farm mapping – a chance to assess and ‘bank’ your natural assets. This service will provide you with data and knowledge to plan and capitalise on the provision of public benefits, designing environmental goals appropriate for your farm. In short, planning for integrated environmental production where the rewards will be substantial- economically and ecologically!

The new approach offers an interesting alternative, one that empowers farmers in managing their own unique set of environmental goals.

However, don’t panic! Those of you already involved in Countryside Stewardship will continue to be supported and advised throughout the transition and towards the proposed replacement scheme of ELMS (Environmental Land Management) if desired. We will also help you maximise the original schemes of CSS, HLS AND ELS – they remain a good foundation for safeguarding your natural capital.

Natural Capital Translated

Is defined as natural assets/stock. Nature in its pure form: Trees, hedgerows, flora & fauna, biodiversity, soils, geology, water. These elements may then be categorised further into habitat types: woodlands, grassland, amenity, riparian etc and finally landscape character areas – landscape scale ‘character’. From a scientific perspective, these varying scales are often defined as ‘ecosystems’.

The UK is in now in ‘natural capital deficit’ and 60% of our ecosystems are in decline. In essence, the way we manage and farm our land has had a direct impact on the quantity and quality of our natural capital and therefore the capacity and functionality of our ecosystems. Sustainability is under question within the context of these ‘interdependent’ systems, leading to headlines of ’25 harvests left’….

This affects the future of farming and human wellbeing in general, as what nature gives us for free: flood alleviation, climate regulation, drought tolerance, pollination, soil health and ultimately farm productivity is under threat. If we loose these vital services that nature currently does for free, we will have to find the finances and the resources to do the work instead. The loss of the bee has been quantified at £1 billion per year cost to the UK to replace this service! Similarly, chemicals added to depleted soil to replace the complex natural soil microflora comes at a high price. This in turn erodes production environmentally and erodes your profit margins financially – fairly unsustainable in the long term.

Natural environmental systems are complex and tend to look messy but are high in biodiversity and ecosystem function. Simple, ordered systems are controlled and tend to be low in their capacity to absorb shock and change due to their reduced biodiversity and complexity.

So, a natural capital approach is certainly in the right direction. It is a work in progress and the framework is yet to be defined but what we do know is that a Whole Farm Plan is a good place to start. A key word change from ‘Maximisation’ to ‘Optimisation’ will provide you with a new way of thinking automatically!

Also assessing and banking your natural capital will serve to support any future scheme. Finally addressing the cause and not treating systems with a quick fix solution is progress. Soil is the foundation to farming futures. Working together across large areas to provide ‘public benefits/goods’ is essential, sharing knowledge and best practice. Soil, Water and biodiversity issues can readily be addressed at landscape scale.

Suffolk FWAG are here to guide you through this initial and important new approach towards healthy and productive farming. We are developing 12 guiding principles to guide this new approach and catalyse a change in management.

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