The CLA member view on climate change

CLA Land Use Policy Adviser Alice Green summarises the climate change survey completed by members earlier this summer
Sunset over a field of sheep

What do CLA members really think about climate change? Can we mitigate and adapt, or is it all out of our hands? Over summer 2021 the CLA undertook a member survey to find out.

1010 members across all five CLA English regions and CLA Cymru took part. The views of all the main farming enterprises were heard, alongside forestry and woodland and around a third of those involved also had other enterprises. In terms of holding size, there was almost an even split between respondents with less than 100 acres and those with land spanning more than 100 acres, providing a snapshot of current thinking on climate change.

What did we find out?

Somewhat unexpectedly given the changing weather patterns resulting from global warming, less than half the respondents (44%) reported seeing impacts of climate change on their holding. However, in some cases at least, this was due to the difficulty in pinpointing specific changes which had taken place on a landholding as a direct result of climate impacts. Impacts of climate change were more likely to be reported in the eastern side of the country and were highest in the horticulture sector (66%), while livestock grazing had the lowest levels of noticeable impacts.

The survey results also showed that only 48% believe they are able to reduce their holding’s impact on climate change. The results were slightly more optimistic in the larger landholding (59%) and traditional estates.

Despite less than half of respondents believing they could reduce their emissions, 68% have already taken actions that reduce GHG emissions. The disparity between the belief in being able to reduce emissions, and those taking action indicates that the actions taken often have other benefits. This is positive for building the business case for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Interestingly, this figure (68%) isn’t far off the government’s Net Zero strategy target of having 75% of farmers involved in low carbon practices by 2030, although the survey didn’t delve into the scale of the actions taken. The most common actions were a reduction in fertilisers use (34%), improving farm buildings (31%), installing renewable energy (30%) and reducing fuel consumption (24%). Around 13% had reduced livestock numbers.

Around two thirds (60%) of the survey respondents had taken action in the last 5 years that will increase carbon sequestration. The most common actions were increasing hedgerow size (41%), increased soil carbon (26%), planting new woodland (19%), and arable conversion to permanent pasture (17%). Carbon sequestration actions were more common in larger holdings. In fact, 55% of the smaller holdings reported to have undertaken none of the actions listed above.

What motivated members to take action?

The two most common reasons for undertaking actions to reduce emissions or sequester carbon were for the wider environment (52%) and to do the ‘right thing’ (47%). Financial reasons were also prevalent with reducing costs and improving output reported by 38% and 26% respectively. Conversely, only 19% had taken action because of government incentives and just 15% were taking action to meet customer needs.

What have we learnt?

Overall, our survey snapshot shows that there is still work to be done to ensure that farmers and landowners feel that they can have an active role in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

The business case for making a change needs to be strong, but this research suggests that currently, the government incentives aren’t there. It will be interesting to see how motivations shift as we move through the agricultural transition.

Similarly, so far customer demands regarding climate change mitigation haven’t been felt. With major retailers incorporating the farms they source from in their net zero commitments, this at least is one area we can expect to change significantly over the next decade.