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Jeremy's Blog 12th November 2021: Nature and Measurement

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 11th November 2021

The theme of nature recovery has gathered political force over the last decade, since the Lawton Report, Making Space for Nature, and DEFRA’s 2011 Natural Environment White Paper. From David Cameron’s concern, the 25 Year Environment Plan published under Theresa May’s premiership to the new Environment Act, the theme, summarised by George Eustice in July 2020 is that:

“This Government’s pledge is not only to stem the tide of loss, but to turn it around - to leave the environment in a better state than we found it”.

That is reinforced by January’s Dasgupta Report to the Treasury describing society and the economy drawing down from nature’s bank without replenishing what has been taken.

Now yoked with managing climate change (which risks the language of the hairshirt), biodiversity improvement may offer the positive language of restoration of birds, plants, bees and more while disrupting fewer people. “Local nature recovery” is a theme of both the Environment Act and DEFRA’s proposed scheme.

It seems to strike a particular chord in the Prime Minister, from his 2021 Conservative conference’s “build back beaver” speech to speaking to COP26 of “sacred biodiversity” and repeated references to the “30 by 30” pledge seeing land “consecrated to nature”. The practical meaning of this pledge by both the Government and Scotland that 30 per cent of land will be managed for nature by 2030 is as yet unknown.

Politics has been said to campaign in poetry but govern in prose. Turning aspirations into reality requires practical measures and measurements. Society has relied for millennia on accepted weights and measures – and then currencies – to give the confidence needed for transactions to have the certainty that achieves value and creates opportunities.

By definition, the “net zero” target requires quantification and actions with known outcomes. The markets now being created as part of achieving habitat change (biodiversity gain), nutrient neutrality (phosphates) and emissions reduction (carbon) all require accepted bases for appraisal. The Woodland Carbon Code, the Peatland Code and the Biodiversity Metric potentially offer these but soil seems much harder. The failure of many earlier offsetting schemes, undermining confidence for the future, makes this work ever more important.

The same issues are important at business level, as regulations, assurance schemes, supply chains and lenders come to expect targets, probably often demanding ones, to be met by

farmers and landowners.

Professional advisers will need to understand the measures for this, their uncertainties and their auditing as much as areas and yields.

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