parkhill canva websize.jpg

Feasibility assessment for an aggregated whole farm approach to accessing natural capital markets

Feasibility assessment for an aggregated whole farm approach to accessing natural capital markets

Soil Association is leading a project to investigate the feasibility for a more aggregated whole farm approach to accessing natural capital markets for small and medium sized farms in Scotland.

This Facility for Investment Ready Nature in Scotland (FIRNS) project is supported by NatureScot in collaboration with The Scottish Government and in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

This short 6 month development project is designed to test the opportunity for farmers and landowners to generate new natural capital and potentially be rewarded with additional payments. The current mechanisms are complex and generally only accessible to large landowners and this is resulting in missed opportunities for market participation by individual farmers, communities and civil society. As well as the missed opportunity to deliver more nature and natural capital from our farmed landscapes.

Project delivery

The Soil Association is in a partnership with the Organic Research Centre, Woodland Trust, Finance Earth and Soil Association Certification to deliver the project, with the support of Scottish Forestry and the IUCN teams who respectively manage the Woodland Carbon Code and Peatland Code.

An early project activity has been to develop a survey for farmers, landowners and other organisations involved in nature restoration projects to seek views on barriers and possible solutions within the scope of the project. There were more than 100 responses to the survey and analysis confirms the key barriers of complexity, (lack of) scale and project development capability/capacity.

Next steps

The survey also proposed mechanisms for addressing these barriers, most of which received positive responses and these insights have been used to focus the feasibility assessment for the next stage. The project is set to conclude by end of March 2024, and the partners are hoping to work with a number of farmers to test the key recommendations and solutions on the ground in a future project.

This work follows on from another initiative involving the same partners, to develop a methodology to assess the carbon sequestered by trees in agroforestry systems. This work was funded by Defra in 2022/23 and, as well as pilots in England, Scottish Forestry funded two Scotland farm based pilots.

Whilst the project successfully developed a useable methodology and relevant requirements for potential carbon financed agroforestry projects, another key conclusion was that natural capital projects focused only on agroforestry are unlikely to be viable.

The funding from FIRNS for the current project aims to help farmers build bigger, more viable projects at a whole farm level involving woodland, hedgerow and agroforestry development, as well as peatland restoration and also to help farmers work together in groups to reduce costs and share knowledge and capacity for these type of projects. We will only meet our climate and nature restoration targets, if our farmed landscapes can help to deliver new natural capital, alongside continued food production.