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We’re launching Farming for Carbon & Nature

Tilly Jarvis
February 26, 2021

This funding will provide the initial support we need to create and pilot a fiscal model enabling farmers on university and college owned land to transition to more carbon and nature-friendly farming practices using university offset payments from unavoidable Scope 3 emissions.

Many colleges and universities have large agricultural landholdings, collectively totalling more than 35,000 hectares in the UK. Based on research we carried out in 2020 some of this land is managed for research, but most is used for commercial purposes, including being let out to tenant farmers.

The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries across the world and the biggest impact on UK biodiversity over the last 50 years has been the intensification of agriculture with devastating impacts on soil health, nature and the climate.

UK universities are passing progressive net-zero carbon reduction targets but even after reducing carbon emissions as much as possible, there will be some remaining, unavoidable, Scope 3 emissions. This could include overseas students or international research and will mean some universities will be looking to invest in carbon offsetting to achieve their net-zero targets.

The aim of the Farming for Carbon & Nature pilot is to put these pieces of the puzzle together, so:

  • More land will be farmed in a way that benefits the climate and restores nature. We will help farmers overcome their main challenges with peer to peer learning, measurements and indicators to assess progress, practical information, as well as the financial support.
  • The UK tertiary education sector will have a scientifically robust and credible option for offsetting unavoidable Scope 3 emissions such as international student travel, with many additional benefits. Universities will have the opportunity to support the sequestration of measurable amounts of carbon in line with the University of Oxford’s report and using soil testing methodologies approved by the University of Sheffield. In addition, these payments will improve soil health, increase biodiversity, and provide opportunities for students to have increased access to, and engagement with, nature through biodiversity monitoring on the farms.

The idea for FCN came from the Director of Estates at Lincoln University and our intention is for the scheme to be owned and managed within the tertiary education sector and externally verified by the leading offsetting organisation, Gold Standard.

We recognise there are a number of uncertainties and questions around using soil to store carbon, carbon removal/offsetting/balancing, and creating a scientifically robust and trusted model. This is why we are collaborating with a range of stakeholders and experts including soil scientists, ecologists, sustainability managers, estates managers, and farmers, from 8 universities and 1 college, Farm Carbon Toolkit, Gold Standard, Nature Friendly Farming Network, The Energy Consortium, Sustain, National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, and National Farmers’ Union.

For more information on the pilot, to register your interest in being involved as a farm or by paying offsets, or to request being on the mailing list for updates, please contact Tilly Jarvis at tilly.jarvis@sos-uk.org or Odette Wills at odette.wills@sos-uk.org.

*Esmée Fairbairn Foundation aims to improve our natural world, secure a fairer future and strengthen the bonds in communities in the UK. We unlock change by contributing everything we can alongside people and organisations with brilliant ideas who share our goals.

The Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-makers in the UK. In 2019 we made grants of £36 million towards a wide range of work within the arts, children and young people, the environment and social change. We also have a £45 million allocation to social investments for organisations with the aim of creating social impact.

www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk