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Land Use and Agriculture

The Land Use Planning Group was formed in 2020 and established a good network of high-level representatives from public, private and community sectors with an interest in land use. A Statement of Intent was produced and agreed by the group, which set out the vision and purpose of the group and 5 workstreams that will be developed to achieve these.

The vision for the Land Use Group is “Thriving communities and landscapes that are connected, enhanced and nature rich so the people in our region can live healthy and prosperous lives and have good quality green jobs across the generations.”

The Land Use Group decided its purpose is to:

  • Establish land use change demonstrator sites to show how the UK Climate Change Committee recommendations can be delivered and showcase the local ‘on the ground benefits’ of carbon reduction and storage, nature recovery, regenerative farming and energy storage.
  • Facilitate knowledge transfer on changing land use in all its dimensions and enable the region’s land linked stakeholders and individuals to adapt and thrive to evolving environmental, economic and social models.
  • Enable a just transition to ensure our communities and individuals in areas that are most in need, benefit the most.

The benefits the Land Use Group aim to see are:

  • Education and training for skills to deliver a green recovery and economy.
  • A more diverse, robust, and interdependent rural economy.
  • Increase in the regions biodiversity.
  • Evolution of a dynamic and multifunctional peri-urban landscape.
  • An engaged sustainable finance system to deliver projects for planet, people and profit for the region.
  • Rapid uptake of emerging technologies that will reduce environmental impact, increase data-based decision making and improve productivity.

The workstreams developed to achieve this vision are:

  1. Towards £500 million – Clear regional green investment proposal that connects projects, reduces risk and raises capital to deliver plans.
  2. A dynamic peri urban – Reenergising the land on our urban areas to become dynamic places, operating in a connected way that always serves communities and tackles climate change to the benefit of health, environment and the local economy.
  3. Science, innovation and technology – A scientific reference group that will collate and interpret existing evidence (carbon budgets, carbon storage content of soils etc) and test assumptions with the purpose of identifying knowledge gaps and opportunities.
  4. Knowledge centres – Create connected and accessible knowledge centres in the places people need so they can access the support and skills needed to develop and deliver new business models and speed the transition.
  5. Landscapes for the future – Uniting landscapes, practices, people and organisations to influence planning policy through demonstrator sites, net gain, natural capital, increased biodiversity and regional carbon policy.

The Group members include:

Chestnut Natural Capital
Confederation of Forest Industries Ltd
Durham County Council
Environment Agency
Forestry Commission
Gateshead Council
GCV Green Network
Living Woods North East
Natural England
North East Community Forest
North Pennines AONB
Northumberland College
Northumberland County Council
Northumbria University
Northumbrian Water
Rural Design Centre
Small World Consulting
Woodland Trust

The benefits of the group have been the many discussions that have taken place between all the different partners involved. This has led to some greater understanding of all the complex issues including the differences between urban and rural land use issues and a greater awareness of each other’s challenges and opportunities. The sharing of best practice and the identification of knowledge and data gaps is a strength of the group. The breadth of the partners and the regional spread ensures the group remain impartial with fewer political constraints. 

The group has also:

  • Been instrumental in developing the Land Use and Agriculture Chapter for the Net Zero North East Prospectus. Thorough consultation across several Land Use PG meetings took place to ensure the content was up to date, inclusive and a fair representation of the issues.
  • The group’s Chair, on behalf of the group, wrote to George Eustice MP to highlight the work of the group and request action around funding, land use issues and bonds.
  • The group responded to the House of Lords Land Use Advisory Group consultation to advise on how the group works regionally in partnership.
  • The group has linked with Nature North to explore further how we as a region can link with other initiatives in the North.
  • Counting Carbon Project – Groundwork NE & Cumbria worked in partnership with Northumbria University and the NEECCo Land Use PG to count the carbon locked up in the habitats and land cover types of the North East. The project team used the latest (2020) version of the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology’s Land Cover Map to estimate the coverage of key land cover types across the North East, and within each local authority area. The Land Cover Map is the only dataset of land cover with full coverage of Great Britain at high spatial resolution (pixels are 25m x 25m), and therefore represented the only means of mapping carbon across the whole North East region. ‘Ballpark’ estimates of total stock and sequestration with the North East were derived by matching these land cover types to Natural England’s estimates of carbon storage and sequestration by habitat (Gregg et al. 2021). The results of this preliminary study were launched in November 2022 and are available on the NEECCo website.
  • Investigated how we can support local authorities to implement Local Nature Recovery Strategies

The current focus of the PG has been the Counting Carbon project development and launch. The key for this has been presenting the information in a user-friendly format to ensure it is understandable to a wider audience. The report and data is available on the NEECCo website and can be broken down into local authority areas and the 2 sub-regional groupings. The next phase of the project will be to seek funding to look at the data gaps to ensure there is more accuracy when predicting the carbon changes with land use changes. 

Our other focus has been the Local Nature Recovery Strategies and how the group can best add value to the work taking place in the local authorities. The PG has recognised the importance of this work and the need to link each strategy to ensure greater impact for the region. Further work is required around how the PG can ensure both rural and urban issues are included in strategy development.  The PG will look to link further with Nature North to investigate the delivery at scale that will be required to make a significant impact. Another important element to the production of the strategies is consultation and liaison with land owners and farmers. This is something the local authorities have acknowledged will be difficult. The PG will explore how this can be done most effectively and consistently. The PG has been waiting for further guidance from government before progressing with these plans.

The PG discussed the need for future plans for the group at the last planning group meeting and agreed to reconvene on the new year and assess the government’s position and any updates in guidance issued. Local Nature Recovery Strategies and Biodiversity Net Gain will be key issues for the group in 2023.

A regional conference has been outlined for all stakeholders involved in the production and development of LNRSs, including land owners and farmers. This would be a useful event to bring together all stakeholders, disseminate key information (once available) and facilitate a joined up regional approach.

Further understanding of the opportunities around the Biodiversity Net Gain agenda and how the region can best capitalise on this without any detrimental impacts on the environment.

Identification of funding streams to further the Counting Carbon project and fill in the data gaps identified. Further work is also required around how this data is presented to different stakeholders. Carbon is a difficult metric for many to visualise, perhaps assigning a monetary value to the carbon would be more digestible for many?

The PG has also discussed a possible network/forum facility for ecologists and consultants working in this field to come together and share best practice. As this field is expanding there are an increasing number of consultants coming in to the field that would benefit from a network and ensure knowledge transfer and green skills are improved.

Further work is required to establish a database of farmers and land owners across the region. This will enable us to communicate with this group more effectively. It will also enable a greater understanding of what future plans are for land use going forward.

The Land Use PG will link with the work of the Waste PG to investigate further the issues around AD digestate, which currently goes to land.  Further work is required around the effects on land with micro plastics and fibres and the issues for regenerative farming using the product.