Carbon Audits and Natural Capital Accounting

A window on future land management?

 Auchnerran and Hill Edge

“Now, we have indeed laboured to make some of the capital which today helps us to produce -- a large fund of scientific, technological, and other knowledge; an elaborate physical infrastructure; innumerable types of sophisticated capital equipment, etc. -- but all this is but a small part of the total capital we are using. Far larger is the capital provided by nature and not by man -- and we do not even recognise it as such.“

E F Schumacher’s remarks in the early 1970’s heralded a rapid evolution in critical thinking and development around ‘natural capital’. These initiatives have more recently been fuelled by global concerns regarding Climate Change and Biodiversity loss. However, whilst natural capital is now rarely far from debate around land and business management, much remains to translate this energy into a sound, deliverable blueprint for oversight of our natural resources at farm, estate, or landscape-scale.

GWCT has been researching the relationship between agricultural production, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, soil health, water management, biodiversity impacts and many other issues through our work at the Allerton demonstration farm since 1992. The Game & Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm in Aberdeenshire is now contributing to that research.

2020 saw the commencement of work to establish the balance between Auchnerran’s GHG emissions and carbon sequestration. Our first step has been to undertake a Carbon Audit. Laurence Gould, our agricultural advisers, have overseen the work to establish the carbon footprint across the farm. They have supplemented this task by drawing up an Integrated Land Management Plan to map out sustainable options for the future.

This year, we have commenced a project to assess the Farm’s natural capital. The work will produce a register of our principal biodiversity features and a set of accounts to place a financial value on the balance of natural assets and emission liabilities. This initiative is being conducted both at Auchnerran, and in conjunction with our neighbours, the Macrobert Trust. It will therefore provide us with a farm unit, and a landscape-scale interpretation. To ensure that the valuation is an independent assessment, it is being undertaken by Eftec (Economics for the Environment) and Strutt & Parker. Eftec have worked with a range of clients including NatureScot, The Duchy of Cornwall, Cholderton and Clifton Castle Estates.

Understanding the emissions, the carbon sequestration balance and the value of natural assets at Auchnerran will provide a variety of research and policy avenues for the Trust to consider.

This is particularly relevant to the Demonstration Farm because it is a haven for nationally important numbers of wading birds. They are supported by suitable habitat, sympathetic farm management and regular predator control – but how can we place public value on their presence and the work to conserve them? Finding solutions at Auchnerran may provide the answer for wider UK approaches.

We can therefore contribute to constructive discussion on development of appropriate agri-environment policy to incentivise sound practice. Equally, understanding and designing a transparent set of benchmarks to demonstrate the maintenance or improvement of biodiversity through via different forms of land management creates the basis for  intelligent blending of public funding, reliefs, and private investment.

Our work on carbon audits and natural capital accounts provides us with the tools to monitor and manage a sustainable farming operation. It also gives GWCT a seat at the table for wider national discussion on research and development opportunities.

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