Food, Land and Sea
- Developing demand for nutritious and sustainably-produced food.
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving carbon storage from farming.
- Maximising carbon storage in the environment.
Devon is mostly rural with two coastlines and up to 92% of land used for farming in some local authority areas.1 So how Devon balances concerns for food production, and security, and the need for its land and seas to store more carbon and do more for wildlife, is a crucial element of our response to the climate and ecological emergency.
The Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) category of Devon’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is different from others because methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the main emissions rather than carbon dioxide (CO2). Nitrous oxide emissions largely come from the application of manure and other organic fertilisers as well as chemical fertiliser to land, whilst methane is mainly produced by the digestion of food by cattle and sheep.
Emissions from AFOLU accounted for 17% of Devon’s GHG emissions in 2019.2 This category is both a source of emissions and provides opportunities for their removal by increasing the amount of carbon stored in the environment3 and by reducing methane emissions (see Box 1). For example, Dartmoor’s peat soils store an estimated 10 million tonnes of carbon – equivalent to an entire year of CO2 emissions from UK industry.4
The AFOLU emissions for Devon do account for the contribution made by land habitats in removing CO2 from the atmosphere (-347,422 tCO2 in 2019) but do not account fully for emissions from peatland. Improvements to estimates of peatland emissions will be included in the 2020 data release. The role of marine habitats is not included as data are not yet available.
In addition to AFOLU emissions, the fossil fuels used in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors for machinery and processes contribute 4% of Devon’s total emissions, bringing the total for the sector to 21%. Solutions to reducing these emissions are described in the Energy Supply and Transport sections of this Plan.
This section describes what needs to happen to reduce net AFOLU emissions from food, land and sea based on the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC’s) Further Ambition Scenario27 (which does account for the additional emissions from peatlands not currently included in Devon’s emissions inventory). It introduces goals which will overcome the barriers to achieving net-zero in Devon identified during the Thematic Hearings and the Public Call for Evidence, followed by the actions proposed to achieve the goals.
Box 1 – Short-Lived Greenhouse Gases
The amount of energy each greenhouse gas (GHG) traps in the atmosphere varies. The effect of a GHG on global warming is known as its global warming potential relative to 1 unit of carbon dioxide over 100 years (known as GWP100). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change uses GWP100 to analyse the warming effect of different GHGs on a comparable basis – referred to as ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’ (abbreviated as CO2e). The GWP100 of methane and nitrous oxide are 27 and 273 respectively. It is on this basis that Devon’s GHG emissions have been compiled and this Plan prepared.
However, each GHG stays in the atmosphere for different lengths of time, which is not accounted for by the GWP100. Carbon dioxide lasts thousands of years, methane persists for a decade and nitrous oxide is around for about 100 years.6 This means that GWP100 exaggerates the effect of short-lived GHGs on Earth’s temperature because they do not accumulate in the atmosphere over this time scale like longer-lived GHGs.5
A recently-proposed alternative is termed GWP*. This still uses a 100-year timescale but it effectively spreads the emissions of short-lived GHGs evenly over the 100-years. Yet this method receives criticism for understating the warming effect of short-lived GHGs. This is the subject of ongoing research.
This uncertainty is not a reason to ignore methane emissions. Reducing methane emissions now will be effective in reducing peak temperatures and delaying the time at which warming thresholds are crossed.8 To achieve temperature targets and for temperatures to subsequently decline it is important that shorter-lived GHGs and carbon dioxide are addressed together.9
11.2 The Change Needed
Three main changes are needed to reduce the GHG emissions from food, land and sea. Devon’s farming and fisheries businesses are at the core of delivering the solutions:
- Develop demand for nutritious and sustainably-produced food. We need to increase our engagement with food and its production; eat less red meat and dairy; and use our spending power to support local farmers, fisheries and horticulture that demonstrate best practice.
- Reduce GHG emissions and improve carbon storage from farming. Farm machinery needs to use renewable fuels; emissions from manures, wastes and fertilisers must reduce; and food production needs to transition towards practices that improve the amount of carbon in soils.
- Maximise carbon storage in the environment. The extent and condition of existing habitats and ecosystems that store carbon need to be protected, enhance and restored. New, joined-up habitats must be created on land, in estuaries and at sea.
These are described in more detail below.
Throughout this Section, learning is taken from the Ruby Country Net-Zero Beef Farming Forum. In Spring 2021, it brought together 24 people involved in beef farming in northwest Devon to discuss how Ruby Country beef farming can best transition to net-zero GHG emissions by (or before) 2050.
11.2.1 Develop Demand for Nutritious and Sustainably-Produced Food
The CCC’s Further Ambition scenario recommends we each eat at least 20% less red meat and dairy than we were in 2017. This would allow changes in land use to benefit nature without increasing reliance on imports.10 It would also improve health – the average person in industrialised countries eats almost three times as much meat as is considered healthy (Figure 11.1).11
Figure 11.1 – The “diet gap” in industrialised countries between current dietary patterns and recommended intakes of food in the planetary health diet. For example, people in industrialised countries eat 293% of the recommended healthy-level of starchy vegetable intake (almost three times more). Credit: The EAT Foundation. Reproduced with permission 11
The CCC anticipates that by 2050 these dietary changes will result in a 10% reduction in cattle and sheep numbers in the UK and contribute to a 42% decrease in grassland area across England as a whole between 2017 and 2050 to make way for trees, peatland restoration and bioenergy crops.10
Livestock farming is a significant part of Devon’s economy, landscape and heritage.
The Thematic Hearings and the Public Call for Evidence highlighted the divergent views within the County on the topic of diet – there was resistance to reduced numbers of livestock from producers and consumers, as well as support for reduced meat and dairy diets. It was noted that some wildlife habitats depend on low intensity grazing. Yet these changes are already happening: On average, we are each eating 36% less red meat now than in 2008. This has been partly offset by an increase in white meat consumption, whilst the amount of fish eaten in diets has remained steady. Overall, personal meat consumption has reduced by 17%.12 Over the same period, consumption of milk has fallen 11% and the amount of non-dairy alternatives consumed has doubled.13
Raising people’s awareness about how they can use their grocery budget for maximum benefit to their health, the climate and local food producers must be a priority.
11.2.2 Reduce GHG Emissions and Improve Carbon Storage from Farming
The NFU has set the national goal of reaching net-zero GHG emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040.14 There are already excellent examples of best practice being trialled and integrated into land-businesses’ everyday activities.34
Soils are the second largest carbon store on the planet behind the oceans15 but soil carbon stocks have been declining rapidly over the past 200 years due to agricultural practices that have declined soil health (primarily ploughing and the use of inorganic fertilisers).16
There is an opportunity to increase the amount of CO2 sequestered (removed) from the atmosphere and stored as carbon in soils by helping farmers and land managers change their practices.
Practices that enhance and maintain soil carbon include:17
- Regenerative practices. These include techniques that rotate crops with livestock grazing18; reduce tilling and ploughing; and planting cover crops after the main crop has been harvested.
- Agroforestry. This incorporates varieties of trees, hedges and shrubs into cropland and grazing land and avoids monocultures.
- Pasture-based livestock farming (permanent and leys). Animals raised solely on grass reduce tillage by removing the need to grow supplementary feedstuffs, and the manures and plant roots enable soil health to improve.
In addition to the practices above, there is evidence that organic farming can enhance and maintain soil carbon.19
Due to improved soil health, these practices increase the amount of certain vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in crops and levels of omega-3 fats in meats – which are beneficial to reducing risk of a variety of chronic health conditions including heart disease, cancer and arthritis.20
Caution will be needed by policy makers when incentivising regenerative techniques to make sure the carbon storage is additional throughout the global agricultural system. For example, whilst regenerative practices add carbon to the soil, they will generally cause a decline in yield. This could cause a forest to be cleared to grow crops to replace the lost production.21 The National Food Strategy is optimistic that a combination of ‘sustainable intensification’ on some farms (enabled through emerging technology) and land-sharing approaches on other farms, through which farmers deliberately share their land with nature, can minimise this risk.31
When applied to land, nitrogen fertilizer is taken up by soil microbes which results in N2O being emitted to the atmosphere. Loss of N2O from arable soils accounts for around 1.5% of GHG emissions globally. Also, the manufacture of artificial nitrogen fertiliser is carbon intensive, and so its use should be minimised. Careful application of fertiliser to ensure dosing is appropriate for the location and season by using technology, such as GPS-guided machinery, can reduce these emissions by up to 50%. High fuel prices and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have increased the cost of fertilizer,22 meaning that farm businesses are having to scrutinise more than ever the value being obtained from these artificial fertilizers.
Yet large reductions in nitrogen fertiliser application will reduce crop yields which can lead to more intensive farming practices elsewhere, increasing GHG emissions, to make-up for the reduced productivity.23 Agroforestry, making use of nitrogen-fixing species, can increase nitrogen availability naturally,24 and could therefore be part of the solution where appropriate. The continued but prudent use of fertilisers seems to be the best approach currently for the global environment, if this can be sustained economically.
Net-zero will require the almost complete decarbonisation of on-farm machinery through switching away from diesel towards hydrogen, electricity, robotics and biomethane.26 Sharing of machinery between farmers to minimise the amount of new equipment required will reduce embodied energy and contribute to achieving net-zero; for example machinery to enable direct drilling of seed, a method which can reduce the need for ploughing and the associated loss of soil carbon.
Agricultural wastes and manures can be processed through anaerobic digestion (AD) to produce biomethane, which in turn can be used to generate electricity or power vehicles. This is a carbon-negative fuel, meaning its production avoids GHG emissions in comparison to how these wastes would traditionally be treated.25 Furthermore, AD produces a liquid digestate. This can be used as a fertiliser to avoid the need for manufactured alternatives that are carbon-intensive in their production. But as in the application of all fertilisers, digestate must be applied carefully to avoid runoff into watercourses, which is a pollution issue in parts of Devon.
11.2.3 Maximise Carbon Storage in the Environment
The CCC Further Ambition scenario uses trees, hedges and peatlands to illustrate the extent of carbon storage required to achieve net-zero by 2050. The scenario requires UK average woodland cover to increase from 13% now to 17% by 2050, hedgerow length to be increased in the UK by 40% and for 55% of peatlands to be restored.26 The current woodland area in Devon is 12%27 (79,000 ha) which means an annual planting rate of 818 ha per year27 is required if no other habitats are used to increase carbon storage. Bringing undermanaged woodlands into positive management offers a further opportunity to enhance carbon storage, as does letting existing trees in hedges grow and restoring those lost through modern agricultural practices.
There are many habitats that are effective at sequestering and storing carbon, so in practice it will not just be tree planting and the restoration of upland peatlands that will help meet net-zero. Other habitats in Devon that are effective at storing carbon include: wetland habitats such as reedbeds and valley mires; wet Culm grasslands; salt marshes and mudflats; and marine sea grass meadows and kelp beds.
11.3 Greenhouse Gas Outcomes
Figure 11.2 shows the GHG emissions arising from AFOLU and the use of fossil fuels by agriculture, forestry and fishing in the context of Devon’s total GHG emissions. Gross emissions from AFOLU in 2019 were 1.6Mt CO2e, and from fossil fuel were 0.26Mt CO2e. Carbon sequestration was -0.35Mt CO2e, meaning that net emissions were 1.5Mt CO2e. The Figure also shows the projected reduction trajectory for these to 2050 as a result of the delivery of the CCC’s Further Ambition Scenario aided by the actions in this Plan. Through the activities identified in this Plan, by 2050, the net-emissions, are expected to fall to -1.2Mt CO2e which will be used to offset emissions continuing from the transport, buildings and waste management sectors to achieve net-zero.
11.4 Other Opportunities and Benefits
- Restored and newly-created habitats will help address the ecological crisis on land and in the sea, reducing extinctions of beneficial insects and much-loved familiar species.
- Enhancing Devon’s environment will bring benefits for our wellbeing through greater opportunities for contact with nature.
- Tree planting, improving soil carbon and restoring peat bogs, hedges and other habitats will reduce the rate that water moves through landscapes helping reduce flood risk.
- Slowing water down allows the environment to filter it more thoroughly. This improves water quality which eases drinking-water treatment requirements and benefits wildlife in rivers and estuaries, ultimately helping to protect and enhance carbon stored in marine environments and reduce household bills.
- Restored and newly-created habitats provide coastal protection from storms and sea level rise and provide habitat for commercially important fisheries.
- Eating a nutritious and sustainably-produced diet improves health and wellbeing.11 This in turn would reduce the strain on the National Health Service and Public Health budgets.
- Our increased awareness of how food is produced, where it comes from and the effect of diet on health can create additional jobs in local food supply chains.
- Employment opportunities will appear in growth sectors, such as forestry.
- Devon’s landscapes are enriched through appropriately located, expanded, restored and managed network of trees, hedges, woodland and other wildlife habitats, and a more diverse farmed environment.
- Healthy ecosystems contribute to Devon’s beauty and appeal, further encouraging eco-tourism and enjoyment of the natural environment.
11.5 Devon’s Goals to Meet Net-Zero
Devon has seven goals relating to Food, Land and Sea for how we achieve Net-zero.
11.5.1 Goal FA – Everyone Can Choose a Healthy and Sustainable Diet
Healthy food choices are often the better choice for GHG emissions. Following the government’s Eatwell Guide, which reduces the animal products we eat and increases consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts and wholegrains, has a 32% lower environmental footprint in comparison to the typical UK diet.29
People need to be helped to become more aware of how their food choices affect their health and the environment.
Making It Happen
Transparency in how food is produced
Clear information about the carbon and nature impact of different food products is needed to enable everyone to make more sustainable choices. It is a complicated picture as the sustainability of food is affected by various factors including land management practices, the use of fertilizers and pesticides, energy requirements, processing within the supply chain, storage needs, transport distances and mode (e.g. a ship or train is much more carbon efficient than a diesel lorry).30 The National Food Strategy Independent Review (Part 2)31 recommends to the government that the Food Standards Agency should develop a food labelling system to describe the environmental impacts of food products. Devon should support this recommendation in any future consultation. In the meantime, food producers and retailers should be transparent with their customers about how their food is produced. The Devon Climate Emergency partners can raise awareness about making informed food choices, and they can help farmers tell their stories.
Whilst people’s dietary choices impact the carbon intensity of food much more than the ‘localness’ of the food they buy, local food produced with the environment in mind can have a lower environmental impact than food grown further afield.30 People can look for the Made in Devon and Food Drink Devon provenance labels to identify local produce. More local food retailing – through on-street and indoor markets as well as market-garden scale horticulture, like Chagfood – can bring local people and food producers together to create community connections centred around food issues. In this way, local horticulture near towns provides an opportunity to help achieve the 30% increase in consumption of fruit and vegetables necessary to meet the Eatwell Guide’s diet.31 However, land near settlements can be expensive due to its potential development value, meaning securing its use for horticulture can be difficult. Development plans should help improve confidence in negotiations between land owners and potential horticultural businesses by allocating land for horticulture.
There is a risk that replacements to European Union food legislation post Brexit will enable imported food and animal feed, which may be subject to lower environmental standards, to undercut UK producers who are working to higher environmental standards. This could increase the carbon intensity of food consumed in the UK. Yet the government decided in 2021 not to give preferential trade tariffs to food products that demonstrate the minimum standards recommended by the National Food Strategy Independent Review (Part 1).31 This means it’s even more important for us to buy local food of known provenance where possible.
Healthier choices under the current food system are often more expensive.31 The poorest 10% of English households would need to spend close to three-quarters of their disposable income on food to eat the Eatwell Guide diet, compared with only six percent for households in the wealthiest 10%.32 This highlights the challenge of enabling everyone to achieve healthy and environmentally-friendly diets, particularly given the rising pressures on the cost of living.
Bringing producers together through food hubs that offer shared processing facilities, joint marketing and assisted access to local markets, could lower costs for producers. These could then be passed on to consumers.
‘Grow, Cook, Eat’ programmes can be offered to engage people with the enjoyment that can be gained from cooking, encourage the uptake of menu planning, and enhance cooking skills with fruit and vegetables to keep costs down. Existing examples in Devon include: Nourishing Families which runs workshops to transform how families experience food and mealtimes; Incredible Edible grows food in public spaces in Ilfracombe, Totnes, Hatherleigh, Crediton and Cranbrook; and Growing Devon Schools helps children develop practical growing skills.
Devon Food Partnership
The Devon Food Partnership, created following a recommendation of the Interim Devon Carbon Plan, is well placed to coordinate the activities required to increase people’s awareness of – and improve their access to – healthy and sustainably-produced food. It can also aid collaboration between local and national level policy makers to inform the development of new food and agricultural policy.
F1. Support the Devon Food Partnership.
F1.1. Create local food retail areas.
F.1.2. Bring local producers together in food hubs to enable joint processing, marketing and access to local markets.
F1.3. Promote a healthy and sustainably-produced diet, following the government’s Eatwell Guide.
F1.4. Provide Grow, Cook, Eat programmes to reconnect people with the origin and seasonality of food and develop cooking skills.
F2. Development plans to allocate land for horticulture near to settlements where suitable.
Needing action beyond Devon
F3. Show support to government for the introduction of a food labelling system to highlight its environmental impact.
F4. Encourage central government to give preferential trade tariffs to food products that demonstrate food standards equivalent to UK.
11.5.2 Goal FB – Organisations are Serving Local, Sustainable and Healthy Food
Organisations, especially ‘anchor institutions’ (i.e. those that are unlikely to leave an area, such as the NHS, universities, local authorities and schools), can help raise expectations in food provision. They can prioritise environmental enhancement, local sourcing and high nutritional standards in food procurement. In turn, this should reduce supply chain emissions, increase demand for local food and contribute to improved public health outcomes.
Making It Happen
To achieve these outcomes, organisations must commit to providing meals aligned with the Eatwell Guide and set an example for its employees and other organisations. The Food for Life Served Here standard offers a ready-made solution.
Onerous procurement processes create barriers to local producers securing contracts with anchor institutions. Simplifying procurement procedures could enhance market access for the many Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) which form the heart of Devon’s food producers.
The South West Food Hub,33 launched in May 2020, is supporting the region’s food network. It is establishing shorter supply chains between producers and public sector organisations to make it easier to serve local, seasonal, fresh produce. It is also helping SMEs to meet purchasers’ requirements.
F5. Anchor institutions to consider buying local through the South West Food Hub
F6. Organisations to provide meals aligned to the government’s Eatwell Guide and incentivise sustainable food-practices through procurement procedures.
11.5.3 Goal FC – Farmers and Land Managers Have Access to Impartial Advice, Demonstrator Projects and Resources for Low-Carbon Agriculture
The Thematic Hearings revealed that although there are advice services available to farmers and land managers to improve food-production profitability, their capacity is limited and often focused on specific issues. Furthermore, most farm advice is not impartial as it is connected to the sale of particular products or services, and the Ruby Country Net-Zero Beef Farming Forum reported that the advice can be contradictory. Examples of good practice are often not well-disseminated, and research is often undertaken on landholdings that don’t reflect the smaller-size or practices of Devon’s farms. Also there is inadequate support for farmers developing business skills needed to enhance the financial viability and longevity of their businesses and seize emerging opportunities. Some big-name retailers are already asking farming businesses about their knowledge of carbon footprinting as the reporting of this data may become a common contractual requirement, but many farms are still developing this expertise.34
Alongside advice and the demonstration of low-carbon agriculture, farmers need financial support and an available workforce to transition their practices.
Making It Happen
Acknowledging that the mix of solutions will be different for each farm, this Plan recommends the creation of a one-stop-shop Devon Farm Advice Service. This will use farm advisors with access to the latest information to enable farmers to look at every aspect of the business – from producing high-quality, nutritious food to using new approaches and technology to reduce GHG emissions, generate renewable energy (particularly using anaerobic digestion of farm wastes on larger farms) and sequester carbon – to improve environmental outcomes in ways that maintain or increase profitability. The advice provided would consider the objectives of the Land Use Framework and the Nature Recovery Network proposed in Section 11.5.4, and the new funding opportunities described in Section 11.5.5. The service could also coordinate groups of landowners to develop river-catchment scale initiatives that respond to specific or linked environmental problems (Section 11.5.6).
Since publishing the Interim Devon Carbon Plan, a thorough review of the advice currently available to farmers has been completed and the initial structures and pilots to put the Devon Farm Advisory Service in place are underway – see Box 2.
Box 2 – The Future Farm Resilience Programme in Devon35
Defra’s Future Farm Resilience Programme has been operating in the County for several years and, if the current bids to its third ‘Scale-up’ phase are successful, it is likely to be the main route for publicly funded advice to farmers from September 2022 to March 2025. The programme has been run in Devon by Devon County Council (contracted to Business Information Point) and by the Prince’s Countryside Fund (contracted to the Dartmoor Hill Farm Project and Exmoor Hill Farming Network). Both organisations have submitted bids to the 2022-25 ‘scale-up’ phase.
The programme offers participating farmers an introductory workshop on the agricultural transition and additional options for one-to-one advice and attendance at specialist workshops covering topics that farmers have expressed interest in.
Devon is home to world-leading agricultural research institutions as well as innovative organisations demonstrating regenerative agriculture, the use of new technology and novel land management projects – such as Rothamsted Research, The Dartington Estate, Devon Environment Foundation and Apricot Centre. Furthermore, Devon County Council’s 68 County Farms already expect new tenants to have the foresight to identify and exploit new land-based business opportunities.36 More must be made of these resources in partnership with County Farm tenants to showcase the actions that are possible.
This offers an opportunity for a Devon Farm Advice Service to be involved in the testing of research and advice and identifying which are the most beneficial approaches. This would allow farmers to keep up-to-date with new and emerging findings that are directly relevant to Devon’s farms. This may include running engagement activities on farms to exchange knowledge in a practical setting and establishing peer-learning forums.
The new Environmental Land Management Schemes and markets for environmental outcomes, such as carbon offsetting, must provide assistance, as discussed in Section 11.5.5. The costs of transitioning to lower-carbon agriculture include expenditure on equipment. Establishing machinery cooperatives that purchase equipment and employ mechanics and operators on behalf of local farms helps reduce costs and provides more stable employment for farm workers.37 Approaches to sharing equipment should be supported.
Accommodation for Rural Land Workers
Labour shortages are currently a concern for much of Devon’s farming sector, as is accommodation in rural areas for those who work on farms. However, there is the potential for increased requirements for labour to implement regenerative practices in coming decades.38 Some aspects of regenerative farming that do not lend themselves to mechanisation (e.g. hedge laying, harvesting wood, mob grazing practices which require continual adjustments to fencing paddocks).34 Horticulture and other smaller-scale, regenerative agricultural systems can need more permanent dwellings and accommodation for temporary/seasonal workers, volunteers and trainees, than may be expected in other forms of agriculture.
Rising rural property prices, and homes previously used by rural workers being sold separately from their adjoining land, have meant that the availability of affordable dwellings for rural land workers is already reducing.39
National and local planning policy and guidance allow new, permanent dwellings for rural workers if the need can be demonstrated, but not for non-permanent accommodation that responds to the needs of agricultural systems fit to achieve net-zero. Development plans’ policies should respond to the distinctive workforce needs of horticulture and other smaller-scale, regenerative agricultural systems. Non-permanent accommodation may be provided by caravans or cabins etc. that are sited year-round but removed once they are no longer needed.
F7. Look to set-up a Devon Farm Advice Service.
F8. Support development of on-farm anaerobic digestion of agricultural wastes.
F9. Support the testing and adoption of low-carbon agricultural practices.
F10. Explore how the County farms estate could be used to demonstrate low-carbon agriculture.
F11. Support the sharing of agricultural machinery.
F12. Development plans to allow for greater scope in the provision of rural land workers’ accommodation.
Devon and Cornwall Soils Alliance40
The DCSA, launched in 2019, is led by the Westcountry Rivers Trust. It is a collection of private, public and third sector organisations and individuals with a shared interest in addressing the perilous state of our soils by building capacity and capability in soils advice.
The initial stage was funded through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), via the Water Environment Grant fund, with the main deliverables including:
- 100+ advisors trained in soil management.
- 40+ mentors to share knowledge with others.
- 2 demonstration areas to showcase techniques to remedy compacted soils.
- 7 feasibility reports in catchments across Devon and Cornwall to highlight the diversity of soils across the region.
- 10 micro-catchment Natural Flood Management and Water Framework Directive investigations.
- 1 Devon and Cornwall Soil Carbon assessment benchmarking famers across the area.
The project has found that in some areas farming practices are not appropriate for the type of soil and so a more fundamental change is needed to deliver improved water and environmental quality. This will require incentives to encourage reduced stocking levels or shifting away from arable cropping.
The alliance will be continued through Westcountry Rivers Trust to support advisors and farmers in improving soil health as well as embed the approach in wider learning and college courses.
11.5.4 Goal FD – The Potential for Land to Address the Climate and Ecological Emergencies is Being Used to Maximum Effect
Land is a limited resource and is under pressure from competing demands such as food production, forestry, housing, infrastructure, water storage and space for wildlife. Decisions about how land is used do not consider all of the competing demands and outcomes needed. This results in land not achieving its maximum potential for the climate, people and nature. For net-zero to be achieved, increasing carbon sequestration and storage needs to be a central objective of the decisions we make about how land is used.
Making It Happen
A Land Use Framework for Devon is required to establish the principles that can coordinate land-use decisions to achieve the best multiple outcomes from land. Such multiple outcomes include food production, carbon storage, habitat creation, energy generation, natural flood management and so on. Its preparation has begun and is involving extensive stakeholder engagement.
For the Land Use Framework to be effective it will need to influence the reviews of existing land-use strategies, such as Local Plans, River-Basin Management Plans and Local Transport Plans, becoming part of the extensive evidence bases compiled by public authorities to guide their plans. It will also need to function in partnership with farmers, land managers and the new Environmental Land Management Schemes to help guide the opportunities they wish to pursue.
The Land Use Framework will be founded on the requirements of nature and informed by a Nature Recovery Network. Responding to the ecological emergency, the 2021 Environment Act requires preparation of a Devon Local Nature Recovery Strategy. This will set out the priorities and actions required to achieve a Devon Nature Recovery Network (NRN) of joined-up habitats on land and at sea that will provide places that wildlife needs to feed, breed, sleep and move from place to place. It will allow the natural world to adapt to change. A NRN map will show Devon’s existing habitats and identify opportunities for their enhancement, creation and joining-up. This will identify suitable areas for tree planting and, with a Trees for Devon initiative, will ensure the right trees are planted in the right places. The Devon Local Nature Partnership’s Right Tree, Right Place guidance is already available.
F13. Develop a Land Use Framework.
F14. Develop a Local Nature Recovery Strategy and create and implement a Nature Recovery Network.
F15. Design and implement a Trees for Devon initiative.
11.5.5 Goal FE – Mechanisms and Funding are in Place to Protect, Restore and Enhance Nature-Based Carbon Storage
Devon’s environment is all owned, often as part of a land-based business. Financial incentives are therefore required to encourage landowners and managers to implement environmental enhancements by making them an attractive investment proposition.
Making It Happen
Environmental Land Management Schemes
The UK is no longer part of the European Union (EU) and farms’ access to payments under the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are being phased out between now and 2027. These are being replaced by the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) offering payments for delivering different environmental goals.
’Tests and Trials’ of ELMS, to be fully launched by 2025, have been underway in Devon.41 These will inform how this new agricultural payment system can support farmers and land managers to deliver food production alongside carbon storage, other public benefits and the delivery of the NRN. However, there are concerns that ELMS will not bring as much funding into Devon as the CAP did42 and that it may not reward existing environmentally-beneficial agricultural practices or provide support appropriate to smaller farms (e.g. for planting small woodlands).34 We must continue to work closely with central government to ensure the scheme is effective and responds to the needs of Devon’s farming communities and wider environment.
A carbon offset is a measure by an individual or company to compensate for their carbon emissions, usually through a payment for activities which absorb CO2, such as tree planting. The issues associated with carbon offsetting are complex and are considered further in The Potential Role for Carbon Offsetting in the Devon Carbon Plan.43 Carbon offsetting mechanisms alone are inadequate for achieving net-zero. They need to be pursued alongside reducing emissions at source, which must be the over-riding priority.
Nonetheless, carbon offsetting will be needed to meet net-zero because some activities will still emit GHGs beyond 2050. Organisations setting earlier targets for net-zero will need to invest in carbon offsetting to compensate for activities that still use fossil fuels beyond the organisation’s target date. This may be because zero-carbon technology is underdeveloped or too expensive. These organisations’ need for carbon sequestration offers an income stream to land managers and an opportunity to improve the condition of Devon’s natural environment.
Purchasers of carbon offsets will need to be confident that their money is storing carbon long-term. Currently, accreditation schemes only exist for two habitat types via the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code. Similar schemes are needed for other terrestrial, coastal and marine habitats.
The National Planning Policy Framework requires new developments to provide ‘net gains for biodiversity’44 by creating or enhancing habitats to leave the environment in a measurably better state than it was beforehand.45 The Environment Act, which became law in November 2021, mandates the net-gain requirement to be at least 10%. Such investments could deliver far more if they support a landscape-scale approach that contributes strategically to multiple outcomes, including carbon storage. The NRN will help achieve this by identifying areas of Devon that would benefit from investment. Additionally, guidance needs to be prepared to assist developers to understand these new requirements.
Similar net-gain requirements are needed for marine developments, which will require new national legislation. Crucially, coordination is required to ensure marine net-gain initiatives are not implemented in isolation and instead achieve greater outcomes by partnering with other development projects, fisheries management and marine users. Marine net-gain must therefore be integrated with marine planning and natural capital approaches (see Section 11.5.6).
Linking Investors with Providers
Habitat owners need to be aware of the opportunity to receive payments to host biodiversity net-gain and carbon offsetting projects and local investors need to know where to find these opportunities. An online marketplace is needed to facilitate this trading – the North Devon Biosphere’s Natural Capital Marketplace launched in 2022 with this intention and will need support from organisations looking to buy and sell environmental services for it to succeed.
F16. Create Biodiversity Net-Gain Planning Guidance.
F17. Develop an online investment platform to provide a match-making service between providers of environmental services and people wishing to purchase them.
Needing action beyond Devon:
F18. Support the development of carbon storage accreditation schemes for a range of carbon rich terrestrial, coastal and marine habitats.
F19. Work with government to design an effective Environmental Land Management Scheme that will ensure food production alongside carbon storage and other public goods.
F20. Work with government to require marine development to provide environmental net-gain.
Devon Silvopasture Network47
Launched in 2021, this farmer-led agroforestry project will spend the next twelve years investigating whether the practice of silvopasture is a viable way to address the climate and nature crises while maintaining productive farmland.
The new field lab, involving seven farms in Devon, will be the largest participatory research project to date looking at silvopasture – a practice of integrating trees and livestock. The farmers, who produce beef, sheep, venison and dairy, are expecting the trees to bring a range of benefits to their farming systems by enhancing the natural processes that underpin sustainable food production.
The Woodland Trust have designed a planting system for each farm, and provided funding to cover the planting. The Organic Research Centre is leading on the animal behaviour and health aspects whist Rothamsted will focus on soils and hydrology. They will also host a trial at their North Wyke Farm to understand the three planting designs under a more controlled environment.
The Farming, Wildlife and Advisory Group South West is leading on biodiversity research, including ground vegetation, monitoring of birds, bats, flies and dung beetles. They will monitor and collate the data on the practicalities of managing and establishing the trees.
Research to date suggests that soil health is expected to improve, with increased soil carbon, earthworms and fungi. It is also hoped to improve livestock health and welfare through providing shelter and additional nutrition, diversify farm income by providing extra crops of fruit, nuts and timber and boost the nutritional value of forage.
11.5.6 Goal FF – Devon’s Coastal and Marine Habitats Have Been Protected, Restored and Enhanced
Coastal and marine habitats store significant amounts of carbon, termed ‘blue carbon’ and some of these can store more carbon per square metre than forests.48 Devon’s coastlines have significant areas of seagrass meadows, salt marshes, maerl beds, kelp forests, coastal sand dunes and coastal shelf sediments that all store carbon (Figure 11.3).49 Marine creatures in these ecosystems also store carbon in their bodies, which sink to the sea floor when they die, with their carbon potentially remaining buried for thousands of years.50
The extent of coastal habitats in the UK has declined by 10% since the 1950s due to development for housing, industry, tourism, land reclamation and sea defences.51 Many that remain are degraded. All of Devon’s coastal and estuarine waters are classified as ‘moderate’ overall-status for water quality under the Water Framework Directive but none are classified as ‘good’ or ‘high’.52 Protecting coastal and marine habitats and species as part of the net-zero challenge requires water quality to be improved throughout the length of river catchments, not just at the coast. Various factors have combined to cause the degradation of river and marine habitats. The most common are:53
- Physical modifications of water bodies, for example flood defences and weirs that change natural flow levels and allow sediments to build up.
- Pollution from rural areas that includes bacterial contamination from animal manure, pesticides and fertilisers, and sedimentation caused by soil erosion from compacted soils from livestock.
- Pollution from waste water and sewage entering waterbodies where sewage treatment technology to remove enough of the harmful chemicals doesn’t exist, or where storm overflows release untreated sewage into the environment.
All such pollutants are ultimately carried out into our coastal waters and their habitats.
In addition to the issues caused by pollution, coastal and marine habitats are being over-exploited. Wild fisheries are declining due to unsustainable catch rates and habitat destruction from fishing gear.51 Development for energy, telecommunications, aggregates, port facilities and recreation are also contributing to harm.54
The exact size of the opportunity for Devon’s coastal ecosystems to store carbon is significant but has yet to be fully quantified. Further work is needed to understand and to begin valuing these habitats for their full potential.
Mudflats are found in coastal areas, such as estuaries, sheltered from waves. They are covered at high tide and exposed during low tide and become saltmarshes towards land. New sediment is brought in with each tide. As the sediment remains wet, decomposition is slow which allows carbon stores to accumulate.
Devon has approximately 3000 ha of intertidal mud and sand flats.
Saltmarshes in some locations have been found to sequester carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.
Devon has approximately 550ha of saltmarsh habitat, particularly located in the Tamar and Exe estuaries.
Seagrass beds are sometimes described as the rainforests of the sea. They trap sediment in the water, creating carbon rich ‘mattes’, that raise the seafloor by approximately 1mm per year. The seagrass and their mattes store between 12-20% of global oceanic carbon. When seagrass habitats are destroyed or damaged their ability to sequester carbon is reduced and carbon dioxide is released. There has been significant long-term reduction in seagrass extent and quality around the UK and seagrass beds are one of the most rapidly-declining habitats globally.
In Devon, the most extensive seagrass bed is found in Torbay
Maerl is a purple-pink hard seaweed that forms spiky underwater ‘carpets’ on the seabed, known as ‘maerl beds’. Maerl deposits lime in its cell walls as it grows, creating a hard, brittle skeleton, which is an effective carbon store. These maerl beds are slow growing, fragile and do not recover from damage.
In Devon, maerl beds are found in Lyme Bay and off the coast of Lundy
A sand dune is a hill beyond the reach of the tides that has formed over many years and is home to a variety of vegetation.
Braunton Burrows is the largest dune system in England at 1 mile wide and nearly 4 miles long
Kelp is a large seaweed which can form dense underwater forests that capture 75% of the carbon stored annually in the sea.
Making It Happen
A Natural Capital Approach
Initially, a better understanding of the extent and condition of marine habitats and species is needed to establish an asset register of marine natural capital. This would be used to track changes in the stock, distribution, health and enhancement opportunities for marine habitats and provide an inventory of the services they provide, such as carbon storage, food, recreation opportunities, coastal defence and jobs. Valuing these ecosystem services will improve the way this natural environment is evaluated against other priorities and will ultimately lead to greater environmental protection.
The effectiveness of the protection and enhancement measures implemented across the County would be demonstrated by changes to natural capital stock and health recorded in subsequent years using the asset register.
North Devon’s Marine Natural Capital Plan55 already takes this approach. A similar approach is required for the south of the County.
The Catchment-Based Approach
As activity within the full extent of river catchments – from the estuary to the inland watershed – can affect the health of marine and coastal habitats, it is vital that projects and management practices are coordinated between all stakeholders to achieve maximum benefit. This whole catchment approach also benefits flood alleviation, water quality, the health of inland ecosystems and their ability to store carbon.
Working with Sea Level Rise
Rising sea levels will reduce the extent of saltmarshes, sand dunes and other carbon rich habitats where they are restricted from moving landward by coastal defences. Further opportunities for habitats to survive and expand by migrating inland need to be explored in the three Shoreline Management Plans covering Devon’s coastlines when they are next reviewed. These identify the most appropriate approach to managing coastal flooding and erosion risk for each stretch of coast. This will require the managed retreat of sea defences, where appropriate, to enable coastal habitats to move landward.
Large-scale, commercial fisheries can cause significant damage to marine ecosystems through the volume of fish caught, scouring of the seabed by some types of equipment and excessive by-catches (the unintended capture of non-target species).56
Initiatives that target multiple issues, such as minimising by-catch (e.g. specifying minimum net mesh sizes), protecting vulnerable ecosystems and managing multiple species are referred to as taking ‘an ecosystem approach for fisheries management’.57 This ethos underpins the approach taken by The Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (DS IFCA).58 In its role managing fisheries, it sets and enforces local byelaws that fishermen must adhere to.
The work of the DS IFCA includes the defence of Devon’s 19 marine protected areas.59 In these areas, activities that can damage ecosystems, like fishing, are regulated. Fishing controls can include seasonal restrictions, specific species protection and banning certain fishing practices. This has proven effective at enabling ecosystems and fish populations to recover.60
Small-scale fisheries, using smaller boats and traditional methods to target species, are more compatible with the ecosystem approach as they have a lower impact on habitats and fish populations. They also employ additional people per landed-tonne of fish than large-scale fisheries and, because of this, contribute more value to local communities.61
There is a need to provide more support to small-scale fisheries and establish further marine protected areas.
Lost and discarded fishing gear can be lethal to marine life and subsequently degrades ecosystems.62 Furthermore, polyethylene, often used for fishing gear, produces methane and ethylene greenhouse gases as it degrades, and so contributes directly to climate change.63 Despite laws prohibiting the disposal of fishing gear at sea, measures are needed to reduce intentional discarding. It needs to become easier for fishermen to recycle damaged fishing equipment.64
Planning of Marine Development
Decisions about marine development need to enhance the ecosystem services these marine environments provide. The Marine Management Organisation is preparing Marine Plans for all England’s marine waters. The Devon Maritime Forum and Devon’s estuary partnerships should continue to engage with the preparation of these plans, including ensuring active and open dialogue with local people. Local people’s knowledge and views will be vital for the design and implementation of effective plans that ensure new developments do not damage key marine habitats that sequester carbon and give them space to expand.
It is important to achieve a deeper understanding of how our actions, as individuals and organisations, can harm or enhance blue carbon. Efforts must be increased to raise awareness of the link between the climate emergency and the fish we choose to eat, and the chemicals used in gardens, household appliances, bathrooms and kitchens which end up in the marine environment. This must make best use of existing educational assets, such as the National Marine Aquarium, the Wembury Marine Centre, the Torbay Seashore Centre and the new Plymouth Sound National Marine Park.
F21. Devon Maritime Forum and Devon’s estuary partnerships to push for the aims and priorities set out in the Devon Carbon Plan to be incorporated within Marine Plans.
F22. Future reviews of Devon’s Shoreline Management Plans to enable, where possible, carbon-rich habitats to migrate inland with sea level rise.
F23. Develop and implement a South Devon Marine Natural Capital Plan.
F23.1. Establish and maintain an inventory of marine natural capital.
F23.2. Pilot initiatives which increase blue carbon sequestration.
F23.3. Provide support for smaller fisheries that implement sustainable practices.
F23.4. Trial new ecosystem approaches for fisheries management.
F23.5. Improve access to, and incentivise, shoreside disposal of old fishing equipment.
F23.6. Encourage behaviour change by enhancing public awareness of behaviours and activities that damage marine and coastal habitat.
F24. Develop more whole-catchment improvement projects.
Needing action beyond Devon
F23. Develop and implement a South Devon Marine Natural Capital Plan.
F23.7. Work with government to introduce more marine protected areas and provide the resources necessary to protect and monitor them.
F23.8. Work with government for greater monitoring and enforcement of the dumping of fishing gear at sea.
Catchment Management in Devon
The South West River Basin Management Plan provides a framework for introducing measures to improve the condition of the water environment in Devon’s main catchments. Devon is covered by four of these catchments – Tamar, North Devon, South Devon and East Devon. Each of these has a catchment partnership – groups of organisations with an interest in improving the environment associated with the operational catchments of each main river. The partnerships also cover coastal and marine waters. They help implement measures by:
- providing local evidence
- targeting and coordinating action
- identifying and accessing funding for improvements in the catchment
- incorporating river basin management planning into the wider environmental management of the catchment
The catchment-based approach is being demonstrated by various projects, three of which are:
- South West Water’s Upstream Thinking: This recognises that it is more cost effective to help farmers deliver cleaner raw water (water in rivers and streams) than it is to pay for the expensive filtration of polluted water taken from rivers for drinking. Since 2010 the Upstream Thinking project has spent £20m restoring mires and Culm grasslands (that naturally filter water) and on providing pesticide advice and water-quality improvement infrastructure to farmers.65
- Connecting the Culm: This is testing ways of making river catchments more resilient to the impacts of climate change (mainly flooding and drought), using nature-based solutions and collaborating with people living in the Culm catchment to do so.
- The Triple Axe Project: This is piloting bespoke Farm Transformation Plans in the Axe Catchment which enable farms to either partly or completely restructure their operation in order to reduce their impacts on water quality, aid nature recovery (with proposals linked to the Nature Recovery Network) and improve profitability.66
11.5.7 Goal FG – Environmental Law is Effectively Enforced
The evidence collected through the Thematic Hearings identified that existing environmental law designed to regulate environmentally harmful activities is not always enforced effectively. National government agrees.67
Making It Happen
In response, the government has introduced the Environment Act that has created the Office for Environmental Protection. This independent body has the powers to investigate other public bodies that fail to exercise any activities they are required to carry out under environmental law, for example not properly regulating environmentally harmful activities they are responsible for licensing.68
Devon Climate Emergency partners must cooperate with the Office for Environmental Protection and support its establishment but also work with government to improve the availability of resources for enforcement activity.
Needing action beyond Devon
F25. Work with government to improve the effectiveness of environmental legislation and resources for enforcement.
11.6 Summary of the Actions
Figures 11.4 and 11.5 below show the reference number and text of each of the Food, Land and Sea actions in this Plan. The anticipated start and duration of each action is shown on the right hand side of the diagram.
The actions with their duration highlighted in red in Figures 11.3 and 11.4 have been identified as a priority through two processes. Firstly, the Net Zero Task Force assessed each action’s potential to contribute to significant emissions reductions and the likelihood they can be implemented in a timely fashion. Secondly, some actions were highlighted as being important by the respondents to the public consultation.
For more detail, including who can help to deliver these actions, see the full action table.
Delivering the actions in this section of the Plan will help to achieve the milestones in Figure 11.6 below. These milestones reflect the Climate Change Committee’s Further Ambition Scenario.
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63 Defra (2019) Evidence Review of Abandoned, Lost or otherwise Discarded Fishing Gear. Available at: http://sciencesearch.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=14883_ME5232ALDFGevidencereview_Final.pdf
64 Catchment Based Approach (Unknown) Upstream Thinking. Available at: https://catchmentbasedapproach.org/learn/upstream-thinking/
65 Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (2022) Triple Axe Project. Available at: https://blackdownhillsaonb.org.uk/project/triple-axe-project/
66 Defra (2021) Environmental Governance Factsheet (Parts 1 and 2). Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/environment-bill-2020/10-march-2020-environmental-governance-factsheet-parts-1-and-2  Office for Environmental Protection (Unknown) What we can investigate. Available at: https://www.theoep.org.uk/what-we-can-investigate