Green Opportunities - How Nature Can Work for Landowners and Investors
Over the last 18 months the Covid-19 pandemic dominated our lives, however as always, the climate crisis was lurking in the shadows. The forum of debates moved online, but ideas and approaches to “Nature Based” land management strategies were discussed with increased fervour. While controversial, nature based land management seeks to return land to its ‘natural’ state. It is often referred to as ‘rewilding’, however there is a distinction between writers such as George Monbiot who propose widespread re-introduction of species with little or no management of the land, and modern rewilders who argue that custodianship of the land continues to require attention.
While the movement is controversial, it is undeniably gaining traction. In November 2020 an online webinar hosted by Savills and the Cambridge University Land Society was attended by over 600 people. With the UK and Scottish governments respectively promising to protectively designate 30% of land by 2030, and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, nature-based strategies are being thrust into the mainstream political discourse. It is no longer considered a fringe movement for radicals, but rather a serious contender in the approach to climate change: and offers commercial opportunities for landowners. For example, the UK government has pledged to require quoted UK companies to disclose climate data by 2025, and 92 of the FTSE 100 companies already disclosing their climate data, a future market may develop whereby landowners are paid in an offset type arrangement that goes beyond the current emissions trading model.
Nature Based land management practices covers a wide spectrum of activities, however this article will touch on two of the significant activities, namely carbon capture, and diversification that can take advantage of the ‘rewilding brand.’
As with traditional holdings, landowners that embrace Nature Based management approaches are entitled to government grants. The eligibility for these grants depends on the nature of the land management strategy.
In order to encourage Nature Based approaches, the Scottish Government has established the Agri-Environmental Climate Scheme framework. This framework provides payments for landholdings that support biodiversity, flood mitigation, organic farming, historic assets and importantly, woodland and peatland creation. These last two categories are funded to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and securing carbon stores in peatlands.
Alongside the traditional government funding model, Nature Based approaches can also take advantage of the burgeoning carbon credits market. This is where companies either directly purchase land, or pay landowners to ‘capture’ their emissions and thus reduce their carbon footprint, gaining carbon credits to offset emissions.
For landowners, the carbon capture market presents an interesting alternative revenue stream. Landowners are paid per tonne of carbon offset. At present, the market is burgeoning, but already presents a sustainable revenue stream. Due to the nature of the product offered by landowners, long term partnerships can be entered into thus ensuring the financial well-being of an estate. At present there are two types of carbon credits available; verified (or Woodland Carbon Units called WCU) and promise (or Pending Issuance Units called PIU). WCUs are credits currently underpinned by a framework have a floor of £22 per tonne but have gone as high as £50.23 per tonne. PIUs are sold for the promise of offsetting future emissions, and are currently trading at a lower level to verified credits at around £15. In the event of any legislation capping emissions for companies we can expect these prices to surge.
Examples of frameworks for the sale of credits include the Woodland Carbon Code, managed by Scottish Forestry, and the Peatland Carbon Code administered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature UK (IUCN UK). Both of these frameworks set standards in the production of carbon credits in their respective areas, with certain verifiable obligations to be met by landowners. This enables consumers to have confidence that what is purchased is effective, but can enable landowners to charge a premium for their product as it is verified and underpinned by an external body.
Environmentally conscious landowners have also witnessed handsome revenue streams from Nature Based land management practices. Weekend breaks branded as wilderness retreats facilitated by the charity Scotland the Big Picture were proving successful prior to the recent lockdowns. Furthermore, companies such as Highland Boundary Spirits and Liqueurs, Birkentree Birch Water and Forest to Fork wild venison, offer examples of how ‘rewilded’ estates can diversify into areas that cash in on the rewilding brand.
While nature-based land management practices are certainly not for all landowners, they are also not commercial deserts. For the right landowners or investors this presents interesting opportunities together with environmental and commercial sustainability. There are doubtless a great deal more ideas coming in the future, but these are amongst the plethora of approaches that can be taken at present.
This article was published in the Cambridge University Land Society (CULS) Magazine on 21 December 2021
 David Sheppard and Camilla Hodgson, ‘UK Carbon Price Trades at £50 as Market Opens for First Time’ Financial Times (London, 19 May 2021).Back to news list