Presentation: Wilton Park. Global Land Use - Ecosystem Services. By John Varley 27th Sept 2011

Presentation: Wilton Park. Global Land Use - Ecosystem Services. By John Varley

Presentation: Wilton Park. Global Land Use - Ecosystem Services. By John Varley 27th Sept 2011

" ...our power for good or evil in this world's affairs in a countryside is enormous. You may do much, very much, to make many hundreds of people of all grades prosperous and contented, or the reverse. ...And if you are a lover of nature as well as of your work; if every bird and beast of the field, every flower of the hedgerow, every change of the developing season, every geological change on your charge, and all that such a change brings with it, have an interest for you, and if your barometer, thermometer, and rain-gauge record have the same... how can your life ever be dull? How can it be otherwise than full of interest, and therefore of happiness? But far and away above any satisfaction of this kind... is the inward knowledge that you can look the whole world in the face and say that you have done your duty, and something more than your duty."

Good morning. Firstly, thank you for the opportunity to be asked to give my views on the practicalities of the Ecosystem services approach from a land manager's perspective.The quote I have just read to you was taken from the writings of Robert Lipscomb in 1880, who was doing the job I have today, which is to lead Clinton Devon Estates, a 10,000 hectare rural Estate in that most rural county of England - Devon. The Estate has 35 farms, four we manage ourselves, the remainder we rent out. We manage 2,500 hectares of commercial forestry and over 1,000 hectares of scarce heathland habitat - an internationally important conservation site. We own and rent out 350 houses, 150 rural business premises and invest in a number of innovative green and renewable technologies. 

Robert Lipscomb's words, for me, covey the whole essence of what makes responsible land management so important and special. I have no doubt that if Lipscomb were present today in this room he would fully understand eco-system services and the critical connection between nature and people. Indeed, he would probably say that when he ran the Estate his business model was the eco-system services approach!

Like Lipscomb, I guess I have one of the best jobs out of all the people present in this room - after over 100 years in a backwater, since Lipscomb, land management has come of age. The business I manage and lead has been operating since 1519, and has survived numerous and traumatic transformations; from the Reformation, Industrial Revolution, Two World Wars and now the decline of the Nation State. Today, as the Institute for the Future says: 

"Land management will be at the centre of a debate about demand for food, competing with demand for fuel, carbon management, development, and human health" 

It is certainly one of the most interesting and exciting times to be managing land.

In giving my views over the next few minutes, I will reflect on three propositions: 

1. That we need to recognize that this is going to be a long journey. Unless a generational mindset is in place we may be disappointed.

2. Incentives for land managers to collaborate and deliver solutions across boundaries are critical.

3. That the eco systems services approach offers a remarkable opportunity to recalibrate the relationship between the private and public sector and integrate existing regulatory and market drivers for everyone's benefit. 

Overall, I believe that we need a revolution, not an academic debate, if the eco system services model is going to become business as usual.

 But first, the journey...

 The biggest issue I face at the moment is "Attention". The scarcest resource I have in my organisation is time and the ability to give attention and thought to the complexity of competing demands. These include complying with ever increasing regulation, shifts in government policy - (in the UK after many years when food security was never an issue, now apparently it is) - and responding to incentives to deliver renewable solutions which may not be quite what they seem, or even changed just as you get engaged. And a Common Agricultural Policy in Europe driving some strange behaviour in a so called "market". With the current feedback from negotiations in Brussels, it seems that it will be getting even more odd as those who see it as a social rather than food policy appear to be getting traction.

So, into this melting pot we introduce the concept of "ecosystem services" - a snappy title for something which most land managers do not understand as an academic theory but have been engaged in delivering, or influencing (!), since man first cultivated land. It is striking how excited policy makers and academics are getting over the idea that you can put a value on natural resources and with this value encourage behaviour change for the benefit of society. Apparently, better, more informed, decisions will be made by those with the levers (and the ability) to destroy natural value, or enhance it.

The acid test for land managers will, I believe, be the ability to understand what actually is the right decision they need to make and how making this decision impacts on their business. I recall similar excitement with the unveiling of masses of very compelling data on climate change a few years ago - the message for farmers and managers of land was clear - methane and nitrous oxide was causing harm and needed to be curbed. To date I have yet to come across a tool kit I can be confident in and which will make significant inroads into our farm's contribution to the world's warming climate. In some ways, the story around ecosystem services potentially is perhaps better grasped than climate change; but it will need much work before it will result into a worthwhile call to action from those at the sharp end. We need a whole range of experiments, over extended periods, to test out some of this thinking... and ensure we get the right results. We need to craft our eco systems strategy rather than dictate it.

So, ecosystem services, the stuff of PhDs and Government Scientists or a realistic future for land markets and economies? It all depends on your timescale and how impatient you are.

In the UK most of those involved in agriculture and forestry think in terms of generations rather than the next shareholders meeting. Many are family businesses. Our English tenancy structure still hands many farms down three generations of the same farming family. So, in thinking long, which is what natural processes require and expect, we have an opportunity to buy into putting in place changes which will see results measured in decades rather than months - this is a good start, as long as land managers are encouraged to stick with a generational mindset.

So, my second proposition. That Land Managers need incentives to collaborate and consider impacts across boundaries.

Most of the human race wants to do the right thing by society. Land managers are no exception. If time is taken to explain the cause and effect of current actions, and how they might be changed to maximize positive outcomes, then individual and collective behaviour will, in most cases, adapt. Adaptation takes time and will invariably cost money -understanding these costs and timescales will be important for policy makers if successful engagement and influence is to be achieved. Opportunities to increase scale of impact and integrate operations should be exploited and incentivised. This does not necessarily mean bigger ownerships or tenancies, but it does mean increasing the scale and scope of governance, allowing effective decision making over larger areas. Nature needs space - indeed we need to make space for nature. This leads us to require more co-operative and collaborative, cross boundary working between private, public and non-government players - co-operation and farmers are two words not generally associated with each other in the English language. This aspect is probably the most complex and challenging to deliver. Probably far more complex and challenging than understanding the science and scenario modeling behind eco system services! Time should be spent understanding how to bring about this integration and co-operation.

We should not try to be too clever and think that because the theory appears academically robust it will stand the test of battle once policy makers are let loose with practitioners. It will invariably be found wanting - this is all about new models of making money and expressing value - the "eco-economy" - and I have no doubt that land managers, over time, will find a way of adapting to the new demands and incentives, if markets are allowed to evolve. However, as I remember from my days in a telecoms sales force, it will take a few attempts before what you think you are incentivising actually occurs. Your salesman drives away in a new Jaguar as his or her performance bonus is achieved but you may find that you have less sales revenue or profit...

My third thought was about finding the opportunity for this integration. What land managers in the UK don't need at the moment is another new initiative. Opportunities should be sought to bring together existing policies, initiatives and regulation in a way that continues existing dialogues and successes. At a time of much reduced public finance, opportunities to superimpose funding and resources seems to resonate better than simply starting a new initiative.

In this country the journey has started already. There are many examples of how the ecosystem services approach is being tested across parts of England.

The EU Water Framework Directive is often held up as an example of the Ecosystems Services approach to water management and a shining example of integrated management. Indeed the two main aims of the Directive "to achieve good status by 2015" and to "promote the sustainable use of water" align well with ecosystems thinking - promoting the value of the natural resource and clearly identifying that it has an economic, social and environmental value.

I understand that the economic aspects of the Water Framework Directive have been dealt with through a cost effectiveness analysis of the measure to achieve good status, the willingness to pay for achievement of good status and a regulatory impact assessment of the measures. In all these studies the achievement of good status has been the goal without a clear explanation of the benefits to communities of their water bodies achieving this level. Often the understanding of cost has been much clearer than the understanding and financial value of the benefits.

However, some of the recent catchment wide, cross boundary and multi - ownership initiatives have showed how new ways of working between private, public and community sectors can be achieved even if a rigorous analysis of the benefits is not available.

Today, land management is critically important to successful water management, both in terms of water quality and quantity. Whilst a copy of the EU Water Framework Directive may not be on every farmer's bedside table, it is fair to say that people do connect with the concept of healthy, sparkling rivers, full of life. And that is what land managers can help deliver, by valuing the natural processes that society and the economy need. It is the valuing bit that needs working on...

On our Estate in East Devon in the Lower Otter Valley catchment we funded consultants to assess the impacts on carbon emissions and sequestration by our land management activity. We also identified opportunities to benefit wider communities by managing the catchment in different ways to benefit habitats and core assets. Whilst this knowledge is changing our approach to land management over the long term (as we know more about cause and effect on eco systems) by far the most compelling outcome for me has been all the learning about relationship building, partnerships and better mutual understanding. Already, these valuable outcomes are benefitting our business in ways we could have never imagined.

The skill will be in getting this agenda embedded into business as usual across the land management sector.

If we get this right the opportunity to re-position land and its management is huge. I can envisage a growing appreciation by society of the huge and important responsibility facing those who are privileged to own and / or manage land. This should lead to more consistent levels of professionalism and new skills across the sector. I can also see concepts such as "earned recognition" regulation being used as a carrot for reform, and out dated policies, including the Common Agricultural Policy, having to adapt and move from subsidy to truly rewarding delivery of public goods. But will EU countries buy this? Not by 2013; but maybe during the next round of reforms after 2013 I guess.

The Institute for the Future's 2007 view of land resonates with me. Land management is today at the centre of the debate about demand for food, competing with demand for fuel, carbon management, development, and human health. In England we have a bigger challenge than most other countries - we don't have much space and, if you believe future population forecasts, the pressures on UK land to deliver competing benefits will only increase. So, here in this country, more than many others, we need to get the eco systems experiment right.

It could be that the reason I enjoy my job most of all, is that with the focus on the so called "ecosystem services", we are really beginning to see ways of re-connecting land with people and economies. It is that re-connection which excites me. In a world where generations of western children (and dare I say politicians?) have been disconnected with fundamental realities of life, perhaps we now have a breakpoint for society? And a breakpoint for business?

Like many things though, and with respect to all the worthy academics here today, it comes down to how you motivate, influence and change behaviour rather than some fine papers, theories and research. That's where land managers and business comes in. Hopefully we will take some time to figure out the best ways of crafting our eco-systems strategies and policies as well as ensuring that the work is embedded, wherever possible, into existing initiatives and given proper funding and resources to succeed.

So, with that, I finish with my three propositions:

1. That we need to recognize that this is going to be a long journey. Unless a generational mindset is in place we may be disappointed.

2. Incentives for land managers to collaborate and deliver solutions across boundaries are critical.

3. That the eco systems services approach offers a remarkable opportunity to recalibrate the relationship between the private and public sector and integrate existing regulatory and market drivers for everyone's benefit.

And the revolution? It is a revolution in communication, understanding and perception. Over hundreds of years in England, starting perhaps with the Acts of Enclosure in the 1760s, and reinforced by the Industrial Revolution, there has, in England, been a growing disconnect between much of society and the land, and all the services it delivers.

For decades debates about management of land have been polarized between environmentalists and food producers. Now they are much more blurred and complex. The ecosystems services approach has the potential to start a real revolution which will provide opportunities for a reconnection. Complexity and blur should not provide the excuse for delaying moving to the next stage of the journey.

Aligning land manager's outputs with society's in a much more transparent and obvious way and providing just reward and clear incentives to do so has to be the goal. Undoing the worst of where the debate has been in the past, whilst retaining and building on the best in terms of improvements in efficiency, productivity and animal health.

Thank you.

Handing over something more valuable than we have today,

– Estates ethos

Do what you can to elevate your profession. It is an honourable one

– Robert Lipscomb, Steward 1865 – 1892

But our power for good or evil in this world’s affairs in a countryside is enormous

– Robert Lipscomb, Steward 1865 – 1892

to set out against the Scots, the King’s enemies and rebels

– Instructions given by Edward 1 to John de Clinton on 8th April 1298, prior to him leading the Royal army to victory at the Battle of Falkirk. As a direct result the Clinton Barony was formed on 22nd July 1299

We are trustees for life of the countryside

– 22nd Baron Clinton, 2002