The emergence of carbon markets and other forms of natural capital has led to increased interest from private investors in ecosystem restoration. Coupled with grants for the creation of forests and the restoration of peatlands, this is acting as a major driver of land use change across the UK. The growing interest in forestry and plantable hills from commercial investors due to high timber prices, competitive planting subsidies and strong performance of forestry investments was also widely noted.
But with farmers warning that the lack of regulation on such sales threatened to see Scotland become the ‘ground of business’ for overseas investors keen to offset their environmental footprint or speculate on carbon credits, fears have been raised in some circles a repeat of the Highland Clearances.
So, with farming increasingly being displaced by large private takeovers, a major roundtable has been announced to bring together key stakeholders from across the UK to explore the opportunities and risks arising from such changes to the landscape scale in managing the countryside – and as planting trees displaces agriculture, food sovereignty and the viability of rural communities will also be on the table.
However, the roundtable will also examine the benefits of private investment that could help achieve net zero and other nature-related goals over the next ten years – as well as increase land values for farmers. owner-occupiers.
Researchers from the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI) and the University of the Highlands and Islands have invited people from all sides of the debate – including representatives from the UK and decentralized governments, investors, landowners and community groups – to join the proposed ad hoc advisory group.
The project, which will also look at land use changes on existing farms as well as large-scale acquisitions, is funded by the Scottish Government – with the first meeting taking place on February 22, chaired by SRUC’s Professor Mark Reed.
A Preliminary Evidence Review, which collated and assessed evidence from UK and international studies, was written ahead of the meeting by SRUC Rural Society researcher Dr Rob McMorran.
“These market shifts offer real opportunities for increasing private investment in the environment and for land managers to diversify their incomes at a time of uncertainty about future agricultural support,” McMorran said.
“However, we have found that large-scale private acquisitions of land for natural capital can also entail real risks, including the potential concentration of the distribution of benefits associated with natural capital and in conflict with broader policy putting the emphasis on diversifying land ownership and increasing opportunities for communities to influence decisions around land use.
McMorran said this meant that how large-scale acquisitions and the development of natural capital markets accompanied public support mechanisms required careful consideration to ensure that related opportunities were fairly distributed across the land management sector. and rural communities.