WHEN we started preparing for the COP26 East Hampshire event last year, we knew agriculture and how we use land was going to be a key theme for us locally.

Farming is an important part of life here in East Hampshire, and considering its role in delivering net zero targets was the focus of the Land Use and Agriculture Action Group, one of three groups that presented their findings at the COP26 event in October.

We need both farming practices that reduce greenhouse gases and a policy framework for a sustainable, productive and profitable agriculture sector.

Two new schemes launched by Defra last week will help move this important agenda forward.

The schemes will support nature recovery and climate action by rewarding farmers alongside sustainable and profitable food production.

They’re part of plans to restore 300,000 hectares of habitat across England and help halt the decline in species by the end of the decade.

These reforms are some of the biggest changes to farming in 50 years, as we see the move away from the land-based subsidies of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

First, the Local Nature Recovery scheme will pay farmers for locally-targeted actions that make space for nature in the farmed landscape and countryside such as wildlife habitat, tree planting or restoring peat and wetland areas.

This is the improved and more ambitious successor to the Countryside Stewardship scheme, coming in 2023 and 2024.

Secondly, the Landscape Recovery scheme will support more radical changes to land-use change and habitat restoration such as establishing new nature reserves, restoring floodplains or creating woodlands and wetlands.

Applications for the first wave of Landscape Recovery projects will open shortly, with up to 15 selected from those focused on either helping to recover England’s threatened native species or restoring rivers and streams.

The schemes are designed to provide farmers with a range of options from which they can choose the best for their business – they are voluntary and farmers will be able to determine the combination of actions that is right for them.

More detail on the schemes is of course needed and this will be important to help farmers make the longer-term investments required to adapt their businesses, but there are already excellent examples of local farming practice here in East Hampshire.

The COP26 East Hampshire Action Group identified several local case studies, including the Selborne landscape partnership (covering 5,500 hectares and 22 farms), and the work done by the Blackmoor estate in adopting a carbon footprint exercise across its operation.

Another case study was the innovative aeroponic towers used to grow produce at Applegarth Farm in Grayshott.

The actions we take to change farming methods are clearly an important part of our net zero journey, but the impact of those changes must be sustainable – for farmers, their communities and for the wider food producing sector.