Professor Mark Reed, Co-Director, Thriving Natural Capital Challenge Centre, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) - Written Evidence (LUE0014)



This submission addressees the following questions:

1. What do you see as the most notable current challenges in relation to land use in England? How might these challenges best be tackled? How do you foresee land use in England changing over the long term? How should competing priorities for land use be managed?

2. What are the key drivers of land use change which need to be planned for, and how should they be planned for? What is the role of multifunctional land use strategies in implementing these plans?

3. How might we achieve greater and more effective coordination, integration and delivery of land use policy and management at a central, regional, local and landscape level?

6. What do you see as the key threats to nature and biodiversity in England in the short and longer term, and what role should land use policy have in tackling these?

7. What are the merits and challenges of emerging policies such as nature-based solutions (including eco-system and carbon markets), local nature recovery strategies and the biodiversity net gain requirement? Are these policies compatible, and how can we ensure they support one another, and that they deliver effective benefits for nature?

10. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of the existing land use planning system and associated frameworks in England? How effectively does the system manage competing demands on land, including the Government’s housing and development objectives? What would be the merits of introducing a formal spatial planning framework or frameworks, and how might it be implemented?

11. What lessons may be learned from land use planning frameworks in the devolved nations and abroad, and how might these lessons apply to England?


To do this, we look specifically at the issue of land acquisition for carbon, as these market drivers interact with emerging post-Brexit agricultural schemes. Natural capital buyers and carbon markets are driving significant and rapid changes in the land use sector, and these trends are creating significant, but poorly understood risks for markets, land managers and rural communities. Our response outlines these risks and proposes sixteen options for policy and practice, based on an evidence review and roundtable with over 60 experts in March 2022 from Defra, Natural England, the Environment Agency, each of the Devolved Administrations, and the investment, third sector, research, land management and rural communities.

The challenge

Interest in carbon markets has increased rapidly in recent months, leading to new market opportunities and interest in acquiring land to invest in natural capital, typically through tree planting and restoration of degraded peatland habitats. However:


Natural capital buyers and carbon markets are driving significant and rapid changes in the land use sector


These trends create risks for markets, land managers and rural communities

While it is clear that natural capital markets and wider investor interest in carbon offsetting and green agendas are driving market interest and in particular land values for plantable land (and peatlands), there is currently limited evidence in relation to what the wider outcomes of this are for rural communities and economies and how this varies based on the resulting land use outcomes (e.g. estate or farm based rewilding versus investment oriented productive mixed forestry). Nevertheless, the project has identified a number of important risks that need to be managed:


Options for reducing risks and enhancing positive impacts of natural capital investment

Based on the evidence review and roundtable discussion, 16 options for policy and practice across the UK were identified across five themes.

1. Land market transparency, regulation and best practice in land acquisitions:


2. Participatory and collaborative approaches to natural capital investment:

3. Supporting access to land for nature-based land uses:

4. Values-led, high-integrity ecosystem markets:

5. Rural land use frameworks, redistributing support and incentivising landowners:


It is clear that interest in natural capital and ecosystem markets is driving rapid and significant change in the land use sector across the UK, but these changes are layered on top of (and often symptomatic of) long term and systemic issues in land markets (e.g. around concentration of landownership) and other market drivers (e.g. timber prices). The extent and speed of land use change envisioned by the Committee on Climate Change to meet net zero targets by 2050 is unprecedented. To achieve these changes is likely to require a combination of changes to public support mechanisms and privately financed payments for ecosystem services. The scaling of existing voluntary domestic carbon markets and development of new markets has increased the viability of large-scale land use transitions (e.g. rewilding and afforestation). However, income from natural capital is likely to be unevenly distributed across the land management sector and could reinforce existing structural inequalities relating to concentration of landownership and decision-making power, and related outcomes for communities. It is therefore important that effective and well-aligned market-based and public-support mechanisms are designed to tackle existing structural barriers, avoid policy conflicts and ensure land use transitions are viable across a wide range of land managers and holding types and sizes.


More information

To request a copy of our full report, please contact Professor Mark Reed: For other information or questions about this work, you may also contact Dr Rob McMorran:



This work was funded as part of a SEFARI Special Advisory Group chaired by Prof Reed on large scale land acquisition for carbon, which is working in collaboration with the Scottish Land Commission who are also funding a strand of work on this topic.

Conflicts of interest: Professor Reed is Research Lead for IUCN UK Peatland Programme and sits on the Executive Board for the Peatland Code, and is part of a team developing a UK Farm Soil Carbon Code and a Saltmarsh Code.


Professor Mark Reed

Thriving Natural Capital Challenge Centre, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC)

April 2022