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Sustainable land-use advice service

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority are proposing to fund an advice service to help landowners who wish to scope out the potential for projects that improve the sustainability of their land holdings. This CPCA plan is to appoint an agency for a two-year period to provide free packages of advice to landowners.

We are at the consultation stage of this project. We want to hear from landowners and those interested in nature and the natural environment on how the scheme can best be shaped and delivered. For further information about the Sustainable Land-Use Advice Service please keep reading. To take part in the survey, please click here.

What do we mean by Sustainable?

Understanding sustainable land-use

A working paper for the United Nations refers to comprehensive land use planning as an instrument for ‘sustainable development; it creates the preconditions required to achieve a type of land use that is environmentally sustainable, socially just and desirable, as well as economically sound.’

A 2019 study showed how drastic the loss of habitat has been in Cambridgeshire over the past 90 years.  The Habitat Mapping Project showed that the County had seen a reduction in natural habitat from 33.5% to 11.5%; with the biggest single loss being of semi-natural grassland mostly converted into arable agriculture. A move towards sustainable land-use would help arrest this decline and address the public’s concern about loss of natural habitat as the area experiences further economic growth.

For the Combined Authority’s proposed service, the question becomes, which sustainable land-use activities do we include or exclude from the proposed service?

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To identify the challenges our region faces, we must understand the land. The Great Ouse Fens has been through a process of drainage that commenced as early as Roman times, in the seventeenth-century prospectors intensified work over several decades turning hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands into dry, arable farmland. Today the CPCA area is home to one of the most productive agricultural areas in the country, which makes the area vital for ensuring the UK’s food security.

Of particular concern to our region is the substantial damaged Peatland. ‘Peatlands are a type of wetlands which are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth: they are critical for preserving global biodiversity, provide safe drinking water, minimise flood risk and help address climate change.’  The Fens account for 70% of damaged peatland in our country, while accounting for 27% of England’s total Peatland Stock. The large density of damaged peatland is a primary contributor to our land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) Net Emissions of Carbon. There has been no significant reduction in CPCA LULUCF Net C02 Emissions since 2005. They have only reduced by 1.27% from 2005 – 2020, compared with CPCA Grand Total C02 Emissions reduction of 30.18% in same period. CPCA LULUCF Net C02 Emissions have increased from 23.64% of Total C02 emissions in 2005 to 33.43% in 2020. This means that while we have certainly made progress with curbing carbon emissions, if we do not tackle LULUCF emissions this will make the target of getting to net-zero highly improbable.

Most of the rural lowland in our area is below sea level, landowners who make their livelihood from operating in our region face a risk of rising sea levels.

Sea level rises are an ongoing phenomenon that pose significant stresses on our land over time. Potential environmental disasters such as the prospect of the Thwaites Glacier melting can accelerate the time-span to the fallout. The Thwaites Glacier is one of Antarctica’s largest, studies have suggested that the ice shelf may collapse by 2031 causing the worlds oceans to rise by up to 2 feet. We live in an environmentally interconnected world where the impact of climate change has a ripple effect, we must be both conscious of our role in contributing to rising temperatures, but also be aware of where we are most likely to be impacted and react accordingly.

Conversely our region is also one of the driest in the UK, putting our area at risk of drought. The Summer of 2022 saw very high temperatures, the resulting declaration of drought received heavy regional news coverage on the difficulties that farmers face. This means that land-use change has to take into consideration water consumption, but also seek to manage the highly complex changes in natural groundwater levels by monitoring abstractions from our chalk streams.

With Nature in retreat, we are losing the landscape and wildlife that makes our region unique. This means that we have an opportunity to take action in stewarding wildlife sites and ensure habitat and species recovery.

The challenges facing our area do not have a single panacea, but rather a variety of different approaches can help ensure we increase nature coverage, mitigate the risk from flooding, drought, and meet our obligations to decarbonise. Land-use changes that encompass sustainability vary drastically, rather than being purest in our approach we can target the method that best suits the problem and the parcel of land.

There are 5 types of sustainable land-use activity:

1) Active Sustainable Land-Use. This includes and is not limited to:

– Creation and restoration of wetlands

– Peatland Restoration

– Changes to farming practices to reduce soil erosion and compaction

– Soil conservation on the upstream of rivers

– ‘Leaky’ woody (and heather bale) dams

2) Naturalistic grazing (the restoration of large herbivore regimes that are either wild or seek to mimic wild/natural regimes respectively e.g semi wild cattle).

3) Species translocations (several species with the potential to restore degraded ecological processes could be considered for translocation e.g. the restoration of bustards and beavers to the UK).

4) Passive rewilding (removal of human management and return to nature).


Without central government support such land-use change efforts will be limited to those that can afford to act. This means that we must understand the place of our proposed advice service in the wider context. There are three environmental land management schemes (ELM). The Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery and Landscape recovery. The only scheme currently operating is the sustainable farming incentive, which pays farmers higher amounts for fulfilling higher standards of environmental sustainability. The Local Nature recovery will be fully rolled out by the end of 2024, this scheme will cover most of the proposals outlined above. The Landscape recovery launched in 2024 has overlap but will be focused on those that wish to take more radical and large-scale approach to producing environmental and climate goods on their land.

We recognise that our role in moving the dial towards more sustainable land-use is that of a facilitator. To apply for funding landowners must submit a proposal, however without the appropriate expertise there is a significant barrier before landowners get to this stage. By scoping the potential programmes that could be undertaken, the Advice fund fills a gap between the good intentions of landowners and the funding from national government.

Sustainable Land-Use Advice Service