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Tackling climate and nature crises 'must be top agricultural priority'

Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

By Emily Beament
UK Ministers must support farmers to become "net zero heroes" and make tackling the climate and nature crises a top agricultural priority, it has been urged.

The call, timed to coincide with farming conferences taking place in Oxford this week, comes as polling suggests nine out of 10 people (92%) think it is important that farmers focus on climate change and wildlife losses.

A survey of 2,140 UK adults by YouGov for the nature and animal welfare coalition Wildlife and Countryside Link suggests only a fifth (22%) think the UK farming sector has reduced its climate impact in the last five years.

A quarter believe the sector has had a negative impact on climate change while a further 29% believe there has been no change in the past five years.

Environmentalists, farmers and scientists are calling on the UK Government to put tackling the climate and nature crises at the top of the agenda, and boost support for landowners to deliver wildlife and carbon friendly farming.

The UK Government has committed to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, while the National Farmers' Union has outlined ambitions for the sector to become net zero by 2040.

Farming contributes at least 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, but 70% of England's land is farmed - providing a huge opportunity to create natural solutions to tackling the problem, Wildlife and Countryside Link said.

Organisations including the Nature Friendly Farming Network, Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust are backing the call coordinated by Wildlife and Countryside Link for the Government to support environmentally farming through policies and investment.

They want to see the Agriculture Bill go swiftly through Parliament to deliver payments for public goods such as environment, animal welfare and public access and start the transition to this new system in 2021.

Ministers must also guarantee a budget of at least £3 billion per year for the next 10 years, to be invested in public goods, to give land managers the certainty they need to invest in improving nature and welfare and tackling climate change.

And future trade deals and legislation must maintain or improve environmental and animal welfare requirements, the groups argue.

Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: "Our climate depends on soil as much as oil."

He said the UK could not get to net zero without farmers, with better land management the key to locking up carbon.

"Nine out of ten members of the public want farmers to play their part. So, Government must put the policies in place to help farmers become net zero heroes," he urged.

Martin Lines, chairman of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: "Now is the time for nature friendly farming to become mainstream.

"Unless we urgently transition to a farming system that produces sustainable food, reduces emissions, restores habitats and sequesters carbon, farmer livelihoods and future food production will be threatened, and the impacts of climate change will escalate.

"Farmers are key to addressing climate crisis and wildlife decline - but urgent Government support is needed to take nature friendly farming to scale."

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