4.6 Agriculture and forestry
Moving away from urban development, farmers and other land managers will be some of the first to feel the effects of climate change. One option may be for agriculture to grow biofuel crops or produce non-food materials to replace those currently made from fossil fuels. However, agriculture, which must reduce emissions like any other sector, currently emits about 7% of the UK total (mostly as methane from livestock and nitrous oxide from fertilisers, rather than as CO2).
Many opportunities exist for reducing emissions, including biogas production from anaerobic digestion. This captures methane from organic waste, but it is underutilised in the UK. Farmers can obtain practical advice about climate change adaptation from the Defra-funded ‘Farming Futures’ project. Defra also acts on emissions via its agriculture and climate change policies, including the Environmental Stewardship Scheme, Rural Development Regulation and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Similarly, the Forestry Commission provides information on adaptation relating to forests and woodlands, noting that those in Britain can be managed as a sustainable source of wood – an alternative and less polluting energy source to fossil fuels, and a low-energy construction material.
With climate change impacts likely to vary between regions, Scotland, northern England and much of Wales may see increased timber production due to rising CO2 levels, a longer growing season and a generally warmer climate. In other areas, more frequent summer droughts may reduce growth rates of many tree species. The character of our native woods is also likely to change. Tree pests and diseases may become more serious, with new pathogens arriving, especially with trees already under stress from climate change. Most insect pests are likely to benefit from climate change through increased summer activity and reduced winter mortality. Thus, adaptation is likely to focus on the types of tree grown as well as on the management of forests. Coming from a conservation rather than commercial viewpoint, the Woodland Trust focuses on climate change as being the greatest threat faced by the natural world, including our woodlands. The Woodland Trust takes a landscape-scale view of habitat creation to counter the impacts of climate change
Dialogue between Government and the agricultural sector occurs via the Rural Climate Change Forum. This aims to raise awareness of climate change among farmers and land managers, coordinates work on climate change in the rural sector, advises Defra on rural climate change policies, helps ensure that policies are sufficiently ambitious and will lead to real results, and advises on research priorities relating to reducing emissions and managing climate change impacts.