First-of-its-kind Toolkit will empower farmers to assess nature market opportunities, diversify revenue streams and unlock finance for nature restoration

by | Jan 11, 2024

  • The Green Finance Institute has published a free, interactive Farming Toolkit – commissioned by Defra – to equip and empower the farming community to understand nature markets (such as carbon credits and Biodiversity Net Gain) and help them assess whether they could provide a suitable new income stream for their business.
  • The resource can help farmers attract private sector finance to pay for additional improvements to the natural environment, supporting them with access to the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund (NEIRF), the third round of which makes funding available exclusively to farmers.
  • Farmers are the custodians of the countryside, managing 70% of land and are on the frontlines of delivering environmental improvements.

 

The Green Finance Institute (GFI) has today published the “Farming Toolkit for Assessing Opportunities in Nature Markets”. This free, independent resource will equip UK farming communities with an understanding of nature markets, such as Carbon Credits, Biodiversity Net Gain and Nutrient Neutrality, and support them with their eligibility for NEIRF funding. With this information, farmers will be able to assess if nature markets are right for them.

The Toolkit was designed and tested with a diverse group of over 100 farmers, representing various farm sizes, agricultural sectors, ownership structures, and regions. It provides a framework for farmers to identify and assess nature market opportunities. It includes an introductory guide to nature markets and glossary, and detailed step-by-step guidance from assessing land, through engaging with other farmers, to attracting buyers and the final selling of credits or units. Case studies of farmers already engaging in nature markets accompany each milestone, as do useful resources and audio clips.

Given that farmers are the custodians of the countryside, managing 70% of land, they are central to supporting the UK meeting its environmental targets by transitioning to nature-positive and low-emission farming practices. Some 11% of net greenhouse gas emissions in the UK are from agriculture, putting farmers on the frontlines of the net zero transition. Nature markets offer one of several opportunities for farmers to be paid to deliver additional environmental improvements,  thereby diversifying income streams and boosting resilience.

The Farming Toolkit was developed in partnership with Defra, the Environment Agency and in consultation with farmers and supports the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund (NEIRF) Round 3 process. NEIRF is a project development fund that is run by the EA and Defra, which provides grants to help nature restoration project managers, land managers and eNGOs to explore how private finance can be channelled into nature, including through nature markets. The third round of NEIRF funding is aimed specifically at farmers, with applications closing 16 February 2024.

The Toolkit builds upon findings from the GFI’s Financing a Farming Transition report (March 2023), which identified a lack of clarity on nature markets as a barrier to financing the transition to more sustainable agriculture.

Helen Avery, Director of Nature Programmes and GFI Hive at the Green Finance Institute, said: “Nature markets offer a means for farmers to attract private sector investment to complement public sector funding when delivering environmental improvements. They are evolving  at a fast pace and it is our sincere hope that this toolkit will support farmers in understanding the current markets landscape, and that it will guide them through all the questions they will need to consider in order to assess whether these markets are right for them.”

Green Finance Minister, Lord Benyon said: “We are committed to targeting at least £500 million of private investment for nature recovery in England each year by 2027, rising to at least £1 billion each year by 2030, and farmers will be key in delivering this. This Toolkit will be a valuable resource to give farmers and growers the information they need to develop their understanding of nature markets, providing them new opportunities to be paid for delivering environmental outcomes and contributing to a thriving and sustainable agricultural sector.”

Andy Slaney, NEIRF Programme Manager, Environment Agency, said: “Understanding the opportunities that nature markets provide can feel like a daunting prospect.  This pioneering GFI Farming Toolkit is an invaluable resource for the farming community when considering how to enhance nature and improve the climate resilience of their businesses whilst seeking to maintain a suitable income.  We want nature markets to help the farming community transition to a sustainable state, this Toolkit will help anyone embarking on that journey.”

George Dunn, Chief Executive at the Tenant Farmers Association, said: “It is of vital importance that farmers are rewarded for their work in delivering environmental outcomes and the management of natural capital. It is sad that in most cases, food markets and other markets for agricultural produce do not routinely factor in the environmental management costs involved. To date, farmers have been rewarded, to some extent through public funding but it is now good to see private markets being developed. In landlord tenant situations it will be essential to ensure that tenant farmers have fair access to any private funding available for the environmental work they carry out. They must not be displaced by private sector agreements with landlords which sideline the legitimate and important interests of tenant farmers.”

Sue Pritchard, Chief Executive, Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, said: “Natural capital markets are a new and developing feature in farming and land management. A tool that helps farmers navigate this novel and complex landscape is a welcome addition. Farmers want to be a positive force for change, and our research shows they want government to put the guardrails in place for a well-regulated, sophisticated and fair market in which they can operate with confidence.”

The Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board, said: The voluntary carbon market currently available to farmers is still developing, requiring consistent and comparable standards, and offering lower financial gains than the compulsory market. However, AHDB, as an evidence-based organisation understands the need for independently verified evidence and data to enable farmers to make informed decisions. The Farming Toolkit offers impartial and comprehensive information on nature markets.

Tim Coates, farmer, co-founder of Oxbury Bank and Chair of the Evenlode Landscape Recovery project said: “All farmers must be supported and empowered to enter nature markets in order to receive the just rewards for their land stewardship and the provision of ecosystem services on which we all depend. The publication of the GFI farmer-focussed Toolkit is an essential development to enable widespread adoption of nature-based solutions and income in farming businesses across the country alongside the traditional markets of food, fibre and timber, whether based on carbon, biodiversity, nutrient quality or natural flood management.”

 

Photo by JP VERH