Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Land Unlocked: Carbon & water

By Jane Campbell

29th June 2021

The impact of climate change is already being felt by communities, through flooding and droughts. Farmers are the first responders to these impacts, as well as being one of the few economic sectors that can act as a sink, rather than a source, of carbon. So what are farmers doing to address these impacts on farms, and how can global leaders deliver real change?

In the second of our #LandUnlocked podcast series, podcast host ffinlo Costain speaks to Emma Howard-Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, Co-Chair of the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment and a UK #RacetoZero ambassador, and Stuart Roberts, Deputy Director of the NFU and a mixed farmer in Hertfordshire.

Read on for extracts from the podcast and reflections from host ffinlo Costain - or listen now.

What they said

Why is it important to think about managing water, land and addressing the climate crisis, together?

"Vulnerable communities are going to be the first to experience climate change, and it will be through the water dimension.” - Emma Howard-Boyd

“Too often in the past we have looked one-dimensionally at solving problems: How do we feed people? How do we improve biodiversity? How do we stop floods? The reality is we need to look at all of these things in balance, if we’re to do what modern society needs us to do.” - Stuart Roberts

As we invest and speed towards net zero, it's vital that we’re embedding resilience and nature’s recovery into the solutions we develop, for them to be sustainable." - Emma Howard-Boyd

What role do farmers play in both of these challenges?

“When it comes to water, farmers are the “first responders” to the impact of the climate crisis … How farmers respond has a huge impact on other people” - Stuart Roberts

“Soil is one of the key ingredients. How land is managed affects how porous the soil is, and what happens when we have extreme weather events.“ - Emma Howard-Boyd

How is farming practice changing to meet these challenges?

“I now understand the importance of entire catchments - what happens on my farm has an impact. It manifests downstream. We’ve made changes in our farm to address this. There’s an economic benefit for us too.” - Stuart Roberts

“Farmers are one of the very few sectors of the economy that are a sink as well as a source of carbon emissions … Farmers are part of the solution and we’re up for working in a different way. We want to deliver on modern society’s values. Let’s see fresh water in the UK as an opportunity, and let’s invest in it - at pace.” - Stuart Roberts

What role do partnerships play in meeting these challenges?

“There is an increasing emphasis on catchments and bringing in partnerships to look at every single aspect of how water needs to be managed in a catchment. We now have a River Severn catchment partnership, for example, to do this.”

Read more about the River Severn partnership.

What needs to happen next, to speed further change?

“We need to make sure water is way up the agenda alongside carbon - it’s going to have such a huge impact on how we cope with the changes that are coming.” - Emma Howard-Boyd

“It’s easy for a politician to stand in front of a piece of concrete and see a legacy - it’s tangible. But we can’t just keep building concrete structures. Leaky dams, changes in cropping, slowing the flow through more permanent pasture or through tillage techniques - they're not as easy to point to as concrete dams, but they’re possibly more valuable than big pieces of concrete. So we have to find a way of valuing that service to the community. And it's not just about the cost of installing a leaky dam." - Stuart Roberts


Land Unlocked is a co-production between FFCC and the Farm Gate podcast, and you can subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Spotify, Breaker, and Google Podcasts. Join us, and our podcast host ffinlo, in conversation on Twitter @ffc_commission and @ffinlocostain