Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Land management in UK must change to cope with climate change

Britain faces rising water bills, housing shortages and destruction of wildlife unless the way land is managed is completely reformed, scientists have warned.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 6:30AM GMT 26 Feb 2010
Professor John Beddington, the Government's chief scientific adviser, said sticking with "business as usual" was not an option in the face of pressures such as climate change and population increases over the next 50 years.
The Foresight report on the future of land use said addressing these major challenges would need a strategic and integrated approach, rather than the fragmented policies of the past.

Land is also likely to come under pressure from an increasingly wealthy population to provide more living space and recreation, and the need to produce food and green energy - from wind farms to fuels made from crops - to meet targets on renewables.
Pressure on land and the resources it provides is expected to be particularly acute in the South East, where population is expected to grow most but where water is most scarce and most of the best farmland is found.
In the coming years, changes to the climate including warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers will affect water supplies, increase the need to manage land for flood risk and could damage wildlife and habitats such as ancient woodland.
At the same time, the need to meet EU targets to boost renewable energy and fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through managing soils and forests will also require innovative ways of looking after the land.
Currently, contrary to popular belief, just 10% of land in England is developed - with half of that made up of gardens - while 12% of the UK is forest and woodland and three quarters is farmed.
The report found that, until now, measures to look after the land had managed to contain urban sprawl, ensure there was enough for food production, provided green spaces and preserved beautiful landscapes.
But in the future, a failure to manage land in a joined-up way could result in shortages of resources and "public goods" such as water, wildlife and urban green space, it warned.
Prof Beddington said: "Over the next 50 years we cannot manage land in the way we've done.
"We've got too many competing issues, so much change going on and we need to get much smarter about how we manage land as we go on. Business as usual is not an option."
Options for managing the land in a more joined-up way in the future include incentive schemes for landowners to provide services such as flood storage, water supplies wildlife protection and access for people to enjoy the great outdoors.
Prof Beddington warned: "Without being smart about how land is used, we risk missing targets, such as halting biodiversity loss.
"The effects of climate change and new pressures on land could escalate, seriously eroding quality of life."
Prof Mark Tewdwr-Jones, who was involved in the report, said a new approach was needed, including establishing clear objectives for what the land should be for and how to manage changes to its use.
There should also be a transparent way of making decisions at a national, regional and local level, with a balance between local views and wider concerns.
And better ways should be found to value land for all the benefits it provides - including those, such as clean water supplies and wildlife conservation, on which it is hard to put a price tag.
But the researchers said it was up to the Government to decide how to develop a joined up approach to managing land, across different departments, which would meet the challenges the UK faces.