‘Real risks’ of large-scale acquisition of land for rewilding to be debated

AN upcoming event is to discuss the pros and cons of the large-scale purchase of land for rewilding.

Led by Scotland’s Rural University College (SRUC), the roundtable meeting will look at changes in land use within existing holdings as well as land use arising from acquisition holdings.

It will also focus on green investment funds seeking to rewild agricultural land of any type, typically with native woodlands – often described as ‘land sparing’ because land is set aside for nature – and comparing these with land sharing approaches, such as those based on peatland and farm soil carbon markets.

Concerns about food sovereignty and the viability of rural communities will also be discussed, as well as the benefit of private investment which could aid net zero ambitions and the increase in land values for owner-occupier farmers.

SRUC said it has invited people from all sides of the debates – including representatives from the UK and devolved governments, investors, landowners and community groups – to join the discussion.

Dr Rob McMorran, rural society researcher at SRUC, said, “The emergence of markets for carbon and other forms of natural capital has led to increased interest from private investors in ecosystem restoration. Coupled with grants for woodland creation and peatland restoration, this is acting as a driver of land use change across the UK, both on existing holdings and through buyers acquiring land, particularly in Scotland, to undertake rewilding.

“At the same time, we are seeing increasing interest in productive forestry and plantable hill ground from corporate investors due to high timber prices, competitive planting grants and the strong investment performance of forestry.

“These market shifts bring real opportunities for increasing private investment in the environment and for land managers to diversify their income at a time of uncertainty in relation to future agricultural support.

“However, we found that large scale private acquisitions of land for natural capital may also bring real risks, including potentially concentrating the distribution of benefits associated with natural capital and conflicting with a wider policy emphasis on diversifying landownership and increasing opportunities for communities to influence decisions around land use.

“For this reason, how large-scale land acquisitions occur, and the role of natural capital markets in land markets and how they sit alongside public support mechanisms, needs careful consideration to ensure related opportunities are fairly distributed across the land management sector and rural communities.”