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Introduction toNature Markets Assessing landopportunities Working withother farmers Baselining,planning andmeasuring Workingwith buyers Farm businessplanning Liability & riskmanagement Using repayablefinance Signing legalcontracts Public sectorfunding & policy Tenancy &ownership
  1. Groundwork
  2. Market Engagement
Introduction toNature Markets Assessing landopportunities Working withother farmers Baselining,planning andmeasuring Workingwith buyers Farm businessplanning Liability & riskmanagement Using repayablefinance Signing legalcontracts Public sectorfunding & policy Tenancy &ownership
  1. Groundwork
  2. Market Engagement

Summary of the Blackdown Hills AONB | Real Wild Estates Project

A family farm on the Blackdown Hills AONB has been working with Real Wild Estates and the Westcountry Rivers Trust to develop habitat improvements in order to sell Biodiversity Net Gain credits. The 600 acre conventional arable farm produces grass and cereals on the Devon-Dorset border. Although the owner occupiers engage in farming on their landholding, much of the land is let out on Farm Business Tenancies. In addition to Biodiversity Net Gain, the farmers are also exploring nutrient neutrality, soil carbon and woodland carbon projects on their land.

 

Quick Stats:

  • Location: Blackdown Hills AONB in the River Axe Catchment
  • Size of Land: 600 acres
  • Tenancy & Ownership: Landowner with land let out on Farm Business Tenancies
  • Nature Market Focus: BNG
  • Project Partners: Real Wild Estates, Westcountry Rivers Trust

 

What do I need to know about nature markets to begin with?

 

This section of the Toolkit provides a brief overview of nature markets in England and how they relate to farmers. It is designed to answer some of the early questions that farmers may have around nature markets. All Toolkit content, including this Introductory section, will be updated regularly.

 

What market opportunities are available to me based on my land and goals?

 

This milestone will guide you through an initial assessment of your land as you determine what your broad vision is in relation to nature and help you to identify what opportunities might be available to you to attract private sector finance.

The actions taken at this stage can be taken before you’ve made the firm decision to engage in nature markets. The considerations presented in this milestone will help you determine whether nature market participation makes sense for your goals, the condition of your natural capital and your farming business.

You can also apply many of these considerations to develop a broader vision around your natural capital and other potential funding sources – such as government grant schemes or philanthropic funding.

 

Will I need to partner with other farmers, and if so, how?

 

Once you have a vision for your farm, the environmental enhancements or changes you want to make and a sense of the related income opportunities, you may want to consider joining up with other farmers in your area to implement your outcomes at scale to attract buyers.

Aggregation models, often started among  farmer clusters or as farmer cooperatives, bring together multiple farmers or landowners to collectively participate in nature markets. These models aim to harness the combined efforts and resources of farmers to maximise environmental benefits and economic opportunities. This section will introduce the factors that may influence your decision to join up with other farmers and some of the key considerations to keep in mind when setting up and participating in such a group.

 

How do I measure the environmental outcomes that I can produce in a robust way?

 

At this stage you will have developed an overarching vision for your land and a rough plan for what you want to improve. You will now want to make robust baseline measurements of the condition of your land and develop a detailed plan for interventions and intended outcomes. Plans will also include how you intend to maintain your interventions, measure the impact you are having and verify your outcomes in order to sell them.

 

How should I identify and approach buyers for my outcomes?

 

During your initial project scoping, you may have identified potential buyers of the environmental outcomes you are planning to deliver. Now that you have a project plan and a robust baseline, you will be ready to approach and engage buyers more formally.

Buyers will vary in their expectations and requirements. This milestone will help you prepare for initial conversations with potential buyers to ensure you are empowered to ask the right questions and present a project that will attract a fair price. Your buyers may be within your own supply chain such as retailers and businesses, or organisations who benefit directly from your ecosystem services such as water companies or firms who seek to offset their own environmental impacts.

 

How would this project fit in with my current farming business model?

 

Nature market projects are often just one part of a farmer’s wider business. Some people compare building nature market projects to developing ‘micro businesses’ for the farm. As such, much of the content you see here will be familiar to you.

However, these projects also have key features that separate them from the businesses that farmers usually engage in. For example, the longer timeframes associated and the current uncertainties relating to how nature market projects (and the deals that result) can be blended with government schemes.

Below is a list of questions that will help you think through how to incorporate these projects into your current farm business plan. This includes considerations on building a cashflow or partial budget, but also the less quantifiable factors, such as the potential drawbacks and opportunities to your wider farm that sales of present.

 

What kind of risks should I be aware of and how can I manage them?

 

Like with any aspect of a farm business, risk management is critical – especially for nature market projects that can run over several years. As the landholder, you may be leading the development of the project, be part of a wider group of farmers, or be working with a third-party project developer that is taking the majority of the risk.

In any case, it’s advisable to have a clear understanding of the likelihood of the risks involved, what will happen if the risk materialises, what you as the landholder might be liable for, and how the risk is being managed to prevent this liability.

This Milestone sets out the different types of risks that nature market projects (and the deals that result from them) often carry. The last section covers the types of legal entities that farmers might form, as these can help to manage certain risks and benefit the overall operations of the project.

 

Is it possible to use repayable finance upfront to meet any of the costs?

 

Repayable finance from investors – typically debt or equity – is not always necessary in nature markets if upfront costs can be met by the buyer or through grants.

It’s also important to note that, even when repayable finance is needed, farmers do not necessarily have to secure this themselves.

In the UK, there are very few examples of individual farmers taking out loans and no examples of farmers issuing shares to use specifically to finance a nature market project. Typically, the upfront capital required is organised by a third party – for example, a third-party project developer, a broker etc.

However, as nature markets develop further, and in the case of larger farms, there is potential for farmers to secure repayable finance and meet up-front costs, as with other parts of their business.

The below therefore sets out some questions that farmers (and, more likely, third party project developers) could ask themselves to secure repayable finance from lenders and investors, whether that’s taking on finance independently, or as part of a larger group or partnership.

 

What do I need to be aware of when signing contracts?

 

This Milestone is about the legal contracts you will use and sign to officially commit to the project and transition it to a fully fledged deal. As business owners, farmers are familiar with contracts and understand the need to carefully review the details before signing any such agreements.

Any nature market deal is likely to involve legal agreements that will be tailored to each set of circumstances. However, for ease this Milestone sets out what contract set-ups are used in this space, common contract types, and other key considerations to ask yourself at this stage.

Disclaimer: The information in this Milestone does not constitute any form of legal advice but instead serves as practical advice that has been written by speaking with lawyers, farmers and other practitioners. We recommend that appropriate legal advice should be taken from a qualified solicitor before taking or refraining from any action relating to your contracts and projects.

 

Can I participate on tenanted land?

 

The tenancy and ownership structure of land can have significant implications for farmers engaging in nature markets in the UK. The rights of tenants in relation to nature markets is still not entirely clear in the UK and may differ on a case by case basis. Below are some key considerations which can help both tenants and landlords in asking the right questions when considering engaging in nature markets as policy and legal frameworks develop. Further guidance prepared by the Tenant Farmers Association and the Country, Land and Business Association can be found here. 

 

How do public sector funding and policy align with nature markets?

 

In England, the role of public funding and support to farmers is undergoing change on a scale not seen in decades. The government hopes to strengthen the link between environmental and farming practices to meet its climate and nature restoration targets, while maintaining food security and the viability of farm businesses across the country.

This section offers a summary of how government is working with farmers to access nature markets, and provides guidance on:

 

  • How nature markets might work with public subsidy schemes,
  • What development funding is available for farmers to explore their opportunities,
  • What ‘market infrastructure’ the government is supporting – including Standards and Codes.

Groundwork

 

We have separated out these Milestones into ‘Groundwork’ and ‘Market Engagement’ to indicate which Milestones you will want to read as you consider and/or prepare for nature markets (Groundwork) and those you will move through if and when you decide to become a seller of environmental outcomes (Market Engagement).  

We recommend all farmers read through the Groundwork Milestones in addition to the Introduction to Nature Markets in order to understand better whether nature markets are for them, and how they can, at the very least, explore and baseline their farms so they are ready for any opportunities that may arise later.  

Market Engagement

 

We have separated out these Milestones into ‘Groundwork’ and ‘Market Engagement’ to indicate which Milestones you will want to read as you consider and/or prepare for nature markets (Groundwork) and those you will move through if and when you decide to become a seller of environmental outcomes (Market Engagement).  

We recommend all farmers read through the Groundwork Milestones in addition to the Introduction to Nature Markets in order to understand better whether nature markets are for them, and how they can, at the very least, explore and baseline their farms so they are ready for any opportunities that may arise later.  

 
Acknowledgement

 

With many thanks for his time and insight on this case study:

 

Tom Bridge, Head of Natural Capital, Real Wild Estates

 

 

 

 

 

Date published: 20/10/2023

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Key Takeaways

  • The Blackdown Hills farmers believe biodiversity improvement is imperative to ensuring resilience of their farming business which they plan to pass down to their young daughter. A decline in insect and pollinator numbers on the farm and in the wider countryside was the impetus for them developing a Biodiversity Net Gain project
  • Continuing to produce food is important to the farmers and so, when deciding on interventions, they wanted to make sure any changes they made would work with their farming system and would not take arable land out of production.
  • The farmers are taking a phased approach, where they are committing small pieces of land in stages to ensure they are able to sell their environmental improvements and to increase their knowledge before committing more land to long-term agreements.

 

 

What was the farmers’ overarching vision for their land?

Before deciding on engaging in nature markets, it is important to set out a broad vision for your land including what environmental improvements you hope to see. Prior to developing their project plan, the Blackdown Hills farmers had become very concerned about the decline of insects on their land and in the wider countryside. They were concerned about the impact of a decline in pollinators on food production and the viability of their farm business which they planned to pass down to their young daughter. They wanted to continue producing food but in a more environmentally sustainable manner which would improve the resilience of the farm. An additional concern was in the condition of the River Yarty, which had been in decline as a result of livestock and nutrient management practices throughout the catchment.

The farmers wanted to adopt land management techniques which would promote wildlife and deliver beneficial changes to habitats. Their initial thinking was to introduce a more naturalised grazing system for their livestock and to shift their crop management practices to increase pollinator and insect populations.

 

 

How did the farm identify opportunities to improve their natural capital?

In order to develop an initial view of the state of their land, the farmers engaged Real Wild Estates (RWE) to conduct a biodiversity assessment using UKHAB, and the Westcountry Rivers Trust to conduct a river survey. The river survey was free of charge and the biodiversity assessment cost circa £2,000. The farmers then continued engagement with RWE & WCRT to develop a plan for improvements based on these initial assessments.

Based on the financial opportunities offered by Biodiversity Net Gain and based on their overarching goals of improving insect populations, the farmers decided to focus on developing and improving farm habitats. They had a floodplain grassland on their farm which they aim to transform into a scrubby grassland mosaic. On their arable land, they plan to introduce a range of interventions which will allow them to continue producing food but in a way that will benefit biodiversity.

 

 

How did the farm determine there was market opportunities to deliver their intended outcomes?

The Blackdown Hills farmers explored multiple nature market opportunities which could provide income opportunities for making their various environmental improvements. They are actively pursuing Biodiversity Net Gain, nutrient neutrality and soil carbon opportunities and are considering developing a woodland carbon project in the future. Despite the nascency of these markets, the farmers are eager to get involved as early adopters before competition from other land managers potentially makes it more challenging or less profitable.

Although there may be large market opportunities on your land, you may consider beginning with a smaller project and expanding as you become more experienced and confident. For the Blackdown Hills farmers, they have adopted a three-phase approach, with each phase focusing on a different parcel of land. They wanted to ensure they were able to sell their outcomes from a smaller parcel before committing too much of their land to long term agreements.

 

 

Lessons Learned

“Get as much independent advice as you can. Use local initiatives and companies like Real Wild Estates who aren’t selling a specific product or scheme. Look at all the opportunities. Take your time and ask lots of questions.”

 

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