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11. Food, Land and Sea

11. Food, Land and Sea

Enhancing carbon storage in our landscapes and coasts, providing for the needs of Devon’s citizens and enhancing wildlife.

Devon’s landscapes of national significance

As a mostly rural County with long stretches of coast, how Devon manages its land and seas is a crucial element of our response to climate change and the linked ecological emergency. The Climate change strategy for food, land and sea must consider the interlinked nature of actions to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) and adaptations to climate change. Agriculture and fishing are key sectors of Devon’s economy and have national importance for the delivery of food and the natural environment. In pursuing net-zero there will be new opportunities for land based and coastal livelihoods and farm diversification in Devon.

Farming and land management deliver a wide range of social and environmental benefits over and above food production. Devon is recognised for landscapes of national and international significance and 35% of its land area lies within nationally protected areas: Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks and five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs): the Backdown Hills, East Devon, North Devon, South Devon and Tamar Valley. There are also two World Heritage Sites, the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape and Jurassic Coast, and an International Dark Skies Reserve in North Devon. These landscapes and coasts are major attractions for tourists, another major component of Devon’s economy. Exmoor and Dartmoor National Park Authorities have helped understanding of the distinctive challenges facing these landscapes and existing work to mitigate climate change.

Devon’s emissions from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use 

Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) emissions accounted for 17% of Devon’s total GHG emissions in 2018. The main AFOLU emissions include: enteric fermentation in livestock (e.g. from cow’s digestion of grassfeed), the management of manures produced by livestock, the application of organic and inorganic fertilisers to land,2 changes in land cover and the cultivation of organic soils. This makes agriculture Devon’s third largest source of emissions, after buildings and transport. However, whilst this does account for the contribution of Devon’s terrestrial landscape in sequestering carbon dioxide, it does not account for the role of its marine habitats.

AFOLU is a distinctive sector in that it is both a source of GHG emissions and provides significant opportunities for their removal.3 The challenge is to reduce the former and greatly increase the latter through carbon sequestration and storage. As one example, Dartmoor’s peat soils store an estimated 10 million tonnes of carbon – equivalent to an entire year of carbon dioxide emissions from UK industry.4

AFOLU GHGs differ from other sectors of the economy as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the main emissions rather than carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) from fossil fuel use5 (although land use changes such as conversion of permanent pasture to arable can release significant amounts of CO2 ). Some GHGs increase global warming proportionately more than others over a given time period, per unit, known as their global warming potential (GWP). Methane is considered to have a GWP of 25 times carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide a GWP of 298 times carbon dioxide over a 100-year
period.6 Farming is the largest global source of nitrous oxide, which largely comes from manure and fertiliser use, as well as soil disturbance. 7
GHGs also have varying atmospheric lifetimes, with some breaking down faster than others. Methane is a short-lived GHG compared to carbon dioxide and breaks down within approximately 12 to 15 years.8 The high global warming potential of methane and nitrous oxide makes them important gases for emissions’ reduction. Methane’s comparatively short lifetime gives the potential that atmospheric concentrations of this gas could be stabilised or reduced quicker than more persistent gases. Methane emissions must be reduced to a new lower equilibrium, so that on a yearly basis Devon achieves net-zero emissions.

Acting despite uncertainty

The UK economy faces significant uncertainty and volatility, with the combined impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. This situation poses acute challenges for farming. Lack of clarity around trade agreements and the final formulation of the Agriculture Bill and Environment Bill at the time of writing mean that where and how government will support decarbonisation and production is still not confirmed. However, ‘tests and trials’ of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) are underway in several locations across Devon providing opportunities to inform this Plan. 

Additional uncertainty and technological unknowns remain as to how existing dominant agricultural practices can be decarbonised.

Despite uncertainty, it is imperative that action to mitigate climate change is taken now. But as an emerging and dynamic policy area, actions will need to adjust according to new evidence, science and best practice.

11.1 What needs to happen?

11.2 Opportunities and Benefits

11.3 Key Outcomes

11.4 Goal: Establish a Land Use Framework to promote coherent long-term land-use planning for climate change and nature recovery

11.5 Goal: restore and enhance habitats and soils so that they fulfil their natural potential for carbon sequestration and storage

11.6 Goal: Farmers and other land managers are aware of the options available for helping meet net-zero on their land 

11.7 Goal: Farmers and land managers have access to impartial advice or demonstration models

11.8 Goal: Devon has a thriving sustainable local food culture. Demand for low-carbon, local and nutritious food has increased benefiting citizens and food producers.

11.9 Opportunity for Discussion at the Citizens’ Assembly – The Committee on Climate Change scenarios for achieving net-zero require a 20% reduction in beef, lamb and dairy consumption nationally. What does this mean for Devon?

11.10 Goal: Devon’s coastal ecosystems and their significant carbon stores are protected, restored and enhanced     

11.11 Food, Land and Sea Action Summary Table

11.12 References

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