In our new report “Getting to Net Zero: the role of rural land” we interviewed experts across a broad spectrum of the land and food sector. They shared their views on a wide range of questions around how Net Zero ambitions could practically be achieved, financed and the opportunities and challenges facing rural land.

In this excerpt from the report we share some of the views on the routes to Net Zero for rural land.

There is no single route to achieving Net Zero for rural land. 

The focus for the many different individuals and organisations involved in rural land will be different, depending upon their position and desired outcomes. Their areas of focus will be influenced by commercial decisions, and many in the sector think that the establishment of a stable market for Net Zero enhancements achieved through rural land is a necessary step.

At government level there is clear engagement with this issue. As a devolved matter there is the potential for considerable divergence between the nations, but the direction of travel in England has been clearly set with the gradual introduction of ELMS (the Environmental Land Management Scheme) and as part of it the launch of the Sustainable Farming Incentive, one of a number of promised policies of this type. These schemes mark a significant change, and will greatly influence how rural land is used.

Perhaps most importantly, individuals and organisations across the sector are thinking of how they can achieve this outcome, what may work for them and who they should be collaborating with.

Views from our interviewees

Our interviewees spoke of a wide range of existing individual solutions (from renewable energy installations to crop and livestock management techniques) that could be and already are being deployed to achieve Net Zero ambitions, with further deliverables under development.

They were all clear that there is no one-solution-fits-all option and thought that plot-, location- and geography-specific conditions should be used to determine optimal solutions in each case.

They were clear that while those directly involved in the sector can achieve a great deal, their efforts will need to be accompanied by and aligned to fundamental shifts in the way society thinks and behaves.

“Every business needs to recycle and upcycle anything that they've wasted as much as possible. One of our portfolio companies, UK-based The Summer Berry Company, has a certain amount of organic waste because obviously not all of the crop can be sold. They now recycle 100 per cent of their food waste. In the last year they switched to a 100 per cent renewable energy supplier on our suggestion, and they’ve already looked at things like removing old refrigerants and replacing them with newer ones which are much less impactful on the environment, and also improving their water use so that they recycle more of it. They are reviewing their fuel use and are now considering replacing diesel generators with geothermal energy.”

Georgina Thomas, ESG Associate, the Cibus funds

“We are beginning to move our portfolio to achieve more of a balance between primary agricultural production and other land uses, by taking marginal areas of land out of production and looking at woodland development, hedgerow development and a lot of really simple “no regrets” moves around environmental enhancement. Where we can, we’re encouraging our farmers to adopt a more regenerative approach, including reducing the level of inputs (such as fertilizer and pesticides), alongside practices such as green cover crops. The exciting thing about rural estates is that there's always an opportunity somewhere. Farmers, estate managers and estate owners want to achieve this but there is no one-size-fits-all panacea.”

Paul Sedgwick, Managing Director of Windsor & Rural and Deputy Ranger of the Windsor Estate, The Crown Estate


“To get to Net Zero there will need to be some fundamental changes in consumer habits. For example, if you consider ruminants, we can work on genetics to try and improve their efficiency. Alongside this we can look at the way we can change animal diets to improve efficiency and in turn greenhouse gas emissions. But the truth is we've got a very long way to go and almost certainly the only way to bring about a significant reduction from the red meat sector would be for people to eat less.”

James Townshend, Executive Chairman, Velcourt


“On one of our sites we're in partnership with a seventeenth-generation farming family. We purchased two-thirds of the farm to help them with their family planning transition arrangements from mother and father to son and his wife and family, and we're farming that in partnership: all organic, full regenerative agriculture, finding agroforestry uses in that landscape. We’ve partnered with Riverford Organics to introduce nut trees into the environment. We're working with the Woodland Trust to plant 300 acres of new woodland, connecting lost hedgerows and lost woodland that previous generations have taken out. That will be a case study and a model for what Net Zero farming will look like.”

Rich Stockdale, Managing Director, Oxygen Conservation


“We started measuring our own land [for soil carbon] back in 2015, and we remeasured in 2020. We have a good picture now of the soil carbon stocks on our 2,000 acres of land. Soil carbon stocks on the family farm is equivalent to 150 years’ worth of the farm’s emissions. Since 2021 we have measured other farms in our supply chain with the Farm Carbon Toolkit and we've taken measurements at three different depths across 505 fields, totalling 2,861 hectares. This means 5,050 bags of soil have been collected by hand and over 1,500 holes dug. We will remeasure again in five years to see how the sequestration of carbon is going through organic soils, while also empowering our farmers, sharing best practice and the latest research findings in these practical field trials. We've got one of the largest UK agroforestry projects on the cards and are doing some trials with mob grazing, composting, Bokashi and diverse cropping to measure its potential on increasing soil carbon sequestration. Our view is that as custodians of the land, we're looking at the thing that we can influence most right under our feet. We're not exploring tree planting schemes and things like that because we believe regenerative organic farming is the potential solution to many of the world’s climate problems."

Rebecca Hehir, Head of Communications, Yeo Valley Organic


“Managing soils is absolutely crucial. For arable land, I think using minimum tillage and no tillage direct drilling can keep carbon flowing back into soils. It takes some thinking about because it means changing an existing farming system and then also investing in some new kit. There’s been some work lately on carbon capture in hedgerows. If you've got this huge length of dwarf shrubs, between one and two metres tall and up to two metres thick, then you create a reservoir of plants sucking up carbon.”

Dr Andy Wilcox, Head of Agriculture and Environment Department, Harper Adams University


Visit our website to download the report.