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The route to an environmentally sustainable farming business

The route to an environmentally sustainable farming business

Susan Twining, CLA Chief Land Use Policy Adviser, is speaking at the Low Carbon Agriculture Show in the policy workshop conference session, and discusses the route to more sustainable farming and land management in this guest blog.

As the biggest land user in the UK, the agriculture sector has a significant contribution to make to address the environmental challenges of climate change, nature depletion, and resource protection, not to mention the social challenges of health and well-being. There are two main ways to contribute. Firstly, minimising the impacts of crop and livestock production on the environment through changes in farm practice towards more sustainable systems, and secondly, changing land use to deliver multiple environmental outcomes such as carbon sequestration or increased wildlife.

Sustainable farming

Domestic agriculture policy is supporting the shift towards more sustainable farming practices. This comes through the new agricultural schemes with annual payments for positive actions that reduce farming impacts, and grants for investment in technology, equipment and infrastructure that improve productivity and address environmental impacts. Similarly, farmers are increasingly working with their supply chains to collect data, provide benchmarking of environmental and production data, and use advice (and sometimes investment) to make changes.

Changing land use

Alongside support for improving farming sustainability, there is funding for changing land management through government-funded agri-environment schemes, and, increasingly, private sector funding through nature markets.

The government agri-environment schemes have been running in one form or another for almost 30 years and tend to focus on using some land to provide habitat for wildlife (such as wild bird cover, or woodland) or buffering important features such as waterways. They will continue to be important funding streams for the majority, with more options, short-term and simple contracts, and a relatively straightforward application process.

Private sector funding through nature markets is becoming more established but is still in its early stages. The recent launch of mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain in England from February 2024 is a major milestone. From a landowner and manager perspective, the emerging nature markets have the potential to provide long-term income streams to support business transition and build overall resilience. However, nature markets are not for everyone. The upfront costs and scale of projects can be a barrier to entry, as is the lack of certainty on the best time and methods to do baseline assessments, and clarity of tax treatment. That said, there is also considerable evolution and innovation in the supply chain, with new delivery models, and many new intermediaries providing access to markets, and capacity building in advice, measurement, mapping and monitoring services. In addition, potential buyers are increasingly ready for the market. Responsible businesses, particularly those with shareholders or those for which marketing on sustainability criteria is important, are advanced in their sustainability reporting and actions, driven by requirements such as climate- and nature-related financial disclosures.

In summary, the private sector nature markets are becoming established, but are still in the foothills of awareness and market demand. Given the urgent need for action to meet environmental targets, it is clear that government schemes will be the primary focus for many in the short to medium term and must be adequately funded.

The CLA has a number of Guidance Notes and other resources to help members understand funding options for government schemes and private sector nature markets. For more details visit


To find out how CLA membership can help you, visit or call 020 7460 7969.

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