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Project overview


View these summary slides to find out about the main findings of the project to date.

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Newsletter: 2021

Read a summary of all the project's main findings to date. Or read a short summary for farmers in the FirstMilk My Farm Focus newsletter.

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Newsletter: 2020

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Newsletter: 2019

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Briefing note: Sequestering carbon by planting hedgerows (July 2023)

Carbon sequestration by vegetation and soil is an essential part of addressing climate change and achieving net-zero commitments. In the UK, the Climate Change Committee has proposed that extending hedgerows by 40% will help reaching net-zero carbon by 2050.

In England’s arable and grassland landscapes, this would require the planting of ~193,000 km of new hedgerows, which equates to about half the length of the UK’s road network. More recently, DEFRA has announced its goal of planting 72,500 km of hedges throughout the country by 2050.

This raises two important questions for climate change mitigation planning:

  • What is the annual CO2 sequestration rate of a hedge? 

  • What is the CO2 sequestration potential of planting hedgerows?


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Briefing note: Unlocking private investment in soil carbon in England (June 2023)

New recommendations for the design of high-integrity agricultural soil carbon markets highlight difficulties for farmers to enrol in both Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and emerging agricultural soil carbon markets. To unlock private finance, new public schemes should focus on paying farmers for soil carbon testing, and keeping carbon stored in already well-managed, carbon-rich soils.

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Briefing note: Sequestering soil carbon by planting hedgerows

Key messages:

  • Planting hedgerows is a tool for carbon sequestration and storage

  • Rates of planting in agri-environment schemes are too slow to meet the Climate Change Committee goal of 40% increase in hedgerows

  • Planting rates could be increased by:

    • ​Increasing payments in agri-environment schemes for the delivery of public goods as well as compensating for costs and time of implementation/management

    • Harnessing private sector funding

    • Allowing farmers to sell carbon credits in private markets

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Research article: Soil carbon sequestration potential of planting hedgerows in agricultural landscapes

Realising the carbon (C) sequestration capacity of agricultural soils is needed to reach Paris Climate Agreement goals; thus, quantifying hedgerow planting potential to offset anthropogenic CO2 emissions is crucial for accurate climate mitigation modelling. Although being a widespread habitat in England and throughout Europe, the potential of hedgerows to contribute to net-zero targets is unclear. This is the first study to quantify the soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration rate associated with planting hedgerows. We derived SOC stocks beneath hedgerows based on two estimation methods to assess differences from adjacent intensively managed grassland fields and how these may be affected by sampling depth and hedgerow age, as well as the SOC estimation method used. Twenty-six hedgerows on five dairy farms in Cumbria, England, were classified based on the time since their planting. We measured SOC stocks in 10 cm depth intervals in the top 50 cm of soil beneath hedgerows and in adjacent grassland fields. SOC beneath hedgerows was on average 31.3% higher than in the fields, 3.3% for 2–4 year old hedgerows, 14.4% for 10 year old, 45.2% for 37 year old, and 57.2% for older ones. We show that SOC sequestration rate beneath 37 year old hedgerows was 1.48 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 in the top 50 cm of soil. If England reaches its goal of a 40% increase in hedgerow length, 6.3 Tg CO2 will be stored in the soil over 40 years, annually offsetting 4.7%–6.4% of present-day agricultural CO2 emissions. However, the current rate of planting funded by agri-environment schemes, which today reaches only 0.02% of emissions, is too slow. Private-sector payments for ecosystem services initiatives (e.g., ‘Milk Plan’) show much higher rates of planting and are needed alongside agri-environment schemes to ensure hedgerow planting contributes to net-zero targets.

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Research article: Integrating ecosystem markets to deliver landscape-scale public benefits from nature

Ecosystem markets are proliferating around the world in response to increasing demand for climate change mitigation and provision of other public goods. However, this may lead to perverse outcomes, for example where public funding crowds out private investment or different schemes create trade-offs between the ecosystem services they each target. The integration of ecosystem markets could address some of these issues but to date there have been few attempts to do this, and there is limited understanding of either the opportunities or barriers to such integration. This paper reports on a comparative analysis of eleven ecosystem markets in operation or close to market in Europe, based on qualitative analysis of 25 interviews, scheme documentation and two focus groups. Our results indicate three distinct types of markets operating from the regional to national scale, based on modes of operation, funding and outcomes: regional ecosystem markets, national carbon markets and green finance. The typology provides new insights into the operation of ecosystem markets in practice, which may challenge traditionally held notions of Payment for Ecosystem Services. Regional ecosystem markets, in particular, represent a departure from traditional models, by using a risk-based funding model and aggregating both supply and demand to overcome issues of free-riding, ecosystem service trade-offs and land manager engagement. Central to all types of market were trusted intermediaries, brokers and platforms to aggregate supply and demand, build trust and lower transaction costs. The paper proposes five options for integrating public and private funding for the provision of ecosystem services and proposes a framework for integrating national carbon markets and green finance with regional ecosystem markets. Such integration may significantly increase funding for regenerative agriculture and conservation across multiple habitats and services, whilst addressing issues of additionality and ecosystem service trade-offs between competing schemes.

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Research article: Identifying economic and societal drivers of engagement in agri-environmental schemes for English dairy producers


Livestock production is under increasing scrutiny regarding its impacts on the environment and its wider role in climate change. Consequently, there are a growing number of private agri-environmental schemes (AES) now operating alongside public AES that offer farmers economic rewards to maintain and enhance the environment. This study focused exclusively on a small number of commercial dairy producers located in the North West of England who were all suppliers of a global food producer and members of the producer’s own private AES. The study explored the economic and societal drivers of adoption of agri-environmental behaviours and perceptions of the private processor AES. Overall, farmers felt that income from the private AES provided stability and resilience to their businesses, permitting them to have greater confidence in business planning and budgeting for the upcoming year. The majority of the farmers were not part of a public AES, but were already undertaking some agri-environmental behaviours and were motivated to join the private scheme primarily by financial incentives and by a desire to maintain the natural environment. A minority of respondents identified that the financial incentives offered had directly motivated a behaviour change. Decisions over which agri-environmental behaviours to adopt were driven by the existing animal management practices, geography and landscape of the farm. Farmers compared the private scheme favourably to available public AESs, which they perceived as more restrictive and providing insufficient reward for the “red tape” involved. In contrast, private scheme membership was perceived to have been beneficial for both their farm business and the local environment, and many reported personal satisfaction from engagement in agri-environmental behaviours. It is important that the design of future public AES does not “crowd out” private schemes, giving farmers increasing AES choice and increasing the overall amount of funding available for the delivery of public goods from agriculture.

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Policy brief: Payments for public goods - Rethinking what it is to be a good farmer

Engagement in sustainable farm practices and policy initiatives is not solely based on a rational financial calculation of costs versus benefits. Instead, farmer decisions are shaped by a range of other external and internal factors, such as farm type, and their values, beliefs and norms, including what other farmers are doing. This makes the impact of any new policy interventions, such as shifting from direct payments towards payments for public goods hard to predict (at least in short to medium term), as participation in ecosystem markets may not be in keeping with farmers’ own personal goals and values. A careful consideration of ways in which we can best encourage farmer engagement in any new policy initiatives (or the delivery of ecosystem services more generally) will, therefore, be an important step towards maximising the effectiveness of any changes in policy.

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Policy brief: Ecosystem markets for a green recovery - Policy challenges and opportunities

Ecosystem markets have the potential to fund significant reductions in Greenhouse Gases from the land use sector, while providing new income streams for a sector that has in some areas been significantly impacted by Covid-19. However, to stimulate demand for and supply of projects for new ecosystem markets, a number of policy actions are needed.

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Book chapter: Legal Models for Implementing Agri-Environment Policy after Brexit

The 2018 Health and Harmony policy statement signaled major changes in the way that public financial support for agriculture is delivered in England. Similar discussions on future policy are ongoing in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Public financial support for agriculture post-Brexit will be based on the principle of ‘public money for public goods.’ But what are ‘public goods’ in this context, and how should environmental policy be restructured in its application to agriculture if it is to fit within this new policy framework? Agriculture will also need to play a central role in our response to climate change mitigation, and this will, similarly, require significant shifts in public policy (and public financial incentives) for future farming. This chapter examines legal models for capturing the environmental objectives of future farm policy, and in particular the idea that farm policy should be based on payments to farmers for providing ecosystem services (‘PES’). Key questions include the identification of those ecosystem services that farming can deliver for the future; how these should be measured and incentivized; how private funding for environmental land management might be encouraged and then captured in mixed public/private funding models for PES; and how PES arrangements can be given transactional effect and legal force? These are important issues that will need close examination if post-Brexit agri-environment policy is to be successfully restructured. To fully understand the scale of the challenge that this presents, we must first consider the manner in which agri-environment policy is implemented within current EU arrangements, before moving on to consider the options for reform following Brexit, and finally looking at the shape of the legal framework needed for the future governance of agri-environment policy in the UK.

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Opinion article: Improving the evidence base for delivery of public goods from public money in agri-environment schemes

There is growing interest around the world in more effectively linking public payments to the provision of public goods from agriculture. However, published evidence syntheses suggest mixed, weak or uncertain evidence for many agri-environment scheme options. To inform any future “public money for public goods” based policy, further synthesis work is needed to assess the evidence-base for the full range of interventions currently funded under agri-environment schemes. Further empirical research and trials should then focus on interventions for which there is mixed or limited evidence. Furthermore, to ensure the data collected is comparable and can be synthesised effectively, it is necessary to reach agreement on essential variables and methods that can be prioritised by those conducting research and monitoring. Future policy could then prioritise public money for the public goods that can most reliably be delivered, offering better value for taxpayers and improving the provision of ecosystem services from agricultural landscapes.

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Report: Exploring ecosystem markets for the delivery of public goods in the UK

Understanding how private ecosystem markets operate and the synergies and differences between existing schemes and trading platforms can support better integration of public and private finance, and broaden the range of outcomes and the scale at which these can be delivered. Find out more about these ecosystem markets, and the challenges and opportunities for UK agriculture. 

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Report: Integrating Natural Capital Schemes

Opportunity analysis for integrating carbon markets into multifunctional landscape marketplaces, such as those developed by the Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs) approach.

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Report: Resilient Dairy Social Innovation Lab

This report summarises the Social Innovation Lab led by Newcastle University, supported by project partners, University of Leeds, University of Liverpool, 3Keel, Nestle and First Milk, which was held on 24th October 2018 in Cumbria. Initial findings were presented to Defra in December 2018.

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Policy Brief: What is the evidence that public money leads to public goods delivery from agri-environment schemes?


There is strong evidence that public goods including climate change mitigation, improved water quality and soil health can be provided by several on-farm interventions. There are policy options that could prioritise public money for public goods that can most reliably be delivered, while developing the evidence-base for interventions that are feasible on-farm via Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) pilot trials

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Policy Brief: What role for public-private partnerships to deliver public goods?

Place-based Payments for Ecosystem Service schemes are broadening to new land uses, habitats and services. Now Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs) are pooling funds from multiple private investors to deliver public goods across a broader range of land uses and habitats than ever before. In this policy brief we summarise existing evidence behind the LENs approach and considers the role of public-private partnerships in post-Brexit agricultural policy. 

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