Replace grazing with trees to reduce climate risk says UK Committee on Climate Change

Replace grazing with trees to reduce climate risk says UK Committee on Climate Change

By Will Bugler

The UK government needs to “fundamentally reform” its approach to land management in order to address climate change, according to a new report from the UK Committee on Climate Change. The report suggests that policies that govern how land is used in the UK have been fragmented and not enough has been done to encourage farmers and land managers to use land in a way that is beneficial to the environment and reduce the risks posed by climate change. 

The report, “Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change” emphasises that climate change itself poses a threat to the land’s “ability to provide critical services including clear water, healthy soils and timber”. With a growing population, the report says, environmentally sensitive land use will be vital if the UK is to sustain sufficient levels of food production. 

Agriculture is a primary focus for the Committee, which suggests that farmers could be paid to reforest land that is currently used for grazing livestock. Grazing, especially in upland areas, has a significant impact on the land’s ability to reduce flood risk – the UK’s number one direct climate hazard. To this end the report recommends a reduction in grassland and rough grazing of between 26 and 36 percent by 2050. 

Forest cover in the UK, according to the Forestry Commission, stands at just 12%, one third of the EU average, making the UK one of the least densely forested nations in Europe. Tree cover on hill slopes is one effective measure that can help reduce flooding. Trees intercept water before it reaches the ground and also allow it to seep into the soil much more efficiently, reducing surface runoff. A study in the journal Hydrological Processes points out water has been found to sinks into the soil under the trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under the grass.

The Committee also recommend that the UK government promote a massive re-forestry effort planting 1.5 million hectares of new woodland and turn more land over to growing crops for bio-energy. The report stresses that these alternative uses of land could be economically viable for land managers and farmers, however the UK government would need to provide financial assistance to help them transition.

Access the full report by clicking here

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