The Prince of Wales, Country Life and our countryside heritage

The Conversation is a website sponsored by several universities and others, with the aim of combining academic rigour with journalistic flair. Environment Editor Michael Parker asked me to appraise Prince Charles’ editorial in the Country Life, and this is the article published by The Conversation on Friday 15 November 2013.

Charles: the future

king with retro-


By Charles Cowap, Harper Adams University

In this week’s Country Life HRH Prince of Wales writes of the social and economic importance of farming. It is, he says:

the bedrock of our rural communities, making post offices, pubs, public transport and local health care absolutely vital to the production of our food and the protection of the landscapes we all benefit from in so many ways. This is why the countryside’s contribution to the national good has to be cherished and sustained. Without it, we will all be very much the poorer.

Elsewhere in his editorial HRH writes of the British countryside as the backbone of our national identity. Setting aside for a moment just what the 21st century British identity might be, what about the many generations of seafaring, war, empire, trade, or the industrial revolution? We need only go back to 1701 to see Daniel Defoe’s characterisation of “The True Englishman” in his typically satirical way.

HRH identifies several champions or “heroes” of the countryside, and what an interesting and in some ways inspiring group they are. But heroes? Have they unflinchingly stepped forward to meet terror, risking all for their peers? And can we really say that using helicopters to ferry in material for dry stone walls is a sustainable way to manage the countryside? Here are a few others who we might also recognise for championing the countryside:

  • WG Hoskins, 1908–1922, who taught us to understand the countryside, not least through his The Making of the English Landscape.
  • Octavia Hill, Hardwicke Rawnsley, and Robert Hunter, founders of the National Trust.
  • Kenneth Watkins, founder of the Woodland Trust.
  • Countless agricultural pioneers and innovators including the likes of Bobby Boutflour who did so much to revolutionise dairy farming and cattle nutrition.

Who would be on your list?

HRH rightly recognises the vital role farmers have in feeding us and as custodians of the countryside. But there is a contradiction when he goes on to lament the decline in genetic diversity in livestock, the deteriorating condition of soil and the short herd life of some cows. The Irish potato famines are blamed on lack of genetic diversity with no mention of good rotational practice and other vital aspects of crop husbandry. Can this be a description of the “best farmers in the world” as Prince Charles says?

Contrast this with the views expressed by Allan Wilkinson, Chief Agricultural Adviser to HSBC at the Linking Environment and Farming Conference (LEAF) this month. Wilkinson noted that the performance gap between the best farmers and the rest has always been large – it is now enormous. Wilkinson’s menu for success included attention to detail, good up-to-date knowledge, personal development, looking for ways to collaborate, recognising and respecting the competition.

Price pressure

Prince Charles makes the point that the “big retailers and their shareholders do so much better out of the deal” than the farmers they buy from. He also laments the enormous waste of food in the UK every year. Perhaps some of these retailers understand farming and consumers rather more than we recognise. Increasingly we see the big supermarket groups working with preferred groups of suppliers. During the recent milk price crisis, Tesco was recognised for being more supportive of its producers. In addition Tesco has also just produced its own analysis which revealed the waste of 30,000 tonnes in the first six months of 2013, a vast tonnage lost along the supply chain “from farm to fork”. Losses start in the field, and continue right through to the final consumer.

Waste is not the only problem with food: overconsumption leads to health problems, as are changing patterns of consumption in developing countries. But while many have plenty to eat we have also seen the rapid growth of the Food Bank movement in response to a shameful economic and social need. The Trussell Trust has seen its work triple. It is now rumoured that the publication of Defra research completed in the summer is being suppressed because it links the boom in food bank demand with welfare reforms. Perhaps our list of heroes needs to include Carol and Paddy Henderson for establishing the Trussell Trust in 1997 (named after Carol’s mother whose legacy made it possible).

Like much of what HRH has written about the countryside and farming, there is little to grasp in the way of a broad view of the future of the countryside, much less how to get to that future. The countryside as romantic idyll certainly seems central to his view of the countryside, yet how will that idyll be maintained?

Investing in the countryside, but where?

There are some surprising omissions from Country Life’s editorial. For example, the government is currently consulting on the implementation of the latest changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Here is something which really does shape the countryside, and Defra has given us 28 days to respond to its consultation exercise.

Should we move the remaining money “up the hill” to support the beleaguered upland farmers mentioned by Prince Charles? HSBC’s Wilkinson and Tesco would both probably tell us that there is plenty more that the lowland farmers can do for themselves to improve profitability and farming sustainability. There is a strong case for diverting more of the public money to the marginal farming areas – not to support agriculture as such, but to maintain its value in supporting the rest of the industry “down the hill”, and for the numerous environmental and social benefits it can bring us all.

It is a shame that HRH does not seem to tackle this central issue of the extent to which public money should continue to support farming, what value we get in return for it, and the considerable amount of work which is currently underway looking at how we can reflect the much wider value of nature in the management of natural capital and the “purchase” of natural benefits from ecosystem services. All vital considerations in establishing a rural vision which builds on the best of a rural idyll.

Charles Cowap is a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, and non-executive Director of Management Development Services Ltd. He works as a rural specialist and land consultant for various companies and on various projects developing ecosystem service approaches, and providing training.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Pilot UK Peatland Code

Follow this link for details of an event in London on 10 June to learn about the new Peatland Carbon Code, to meet the team responsible for writing it and to provide your initial thoughts and feedback in preparation for a pilot project to start in September this year.  Or go to this link to book a place directly.

For details of the event:

And to book a place:

Look forward to seeing you there.




The Natural Environment Research Council has funded practical research work in the South West to develop a scheme for the practical restoration of peatland for water management, the reduction of atmospheric carbon and biodiversity habitat management.  This work has been led from Leeds and Birmingham City Universities, and supported with additional funding from South West Water (SWW).  A prospectus is planned to be one of the major outputs from the project, providing advice to landowners, farmers and land managers as to how a scheme could work, what factors need to be considered in deciding on site suitability, and how land managers can decide if participation is right for them.  The prospectus should also be helpful to potential investors in deciding if they wish to invest in the carbon and biodiversity aspects of the scheme.

The prospectus is now being prepared and the purpose of this synopsis is to invite feedback and comments on its overall structure, and the matters which it is proposed it will cover.  All comments are welcome.  Please send them to Charles Cowap, Project Team, at  Charles Cowap and Dr David Smith (SWW) are happy to discuss any questions arising from this work: Charles Cowap 07947 706505; Dr David Smith: 07824 460274 (  There will be further opportunities to comment on the full prospectus in due course.


  • What this document is about
  • How it is structured
  • How it aims to help you to consider if PES (Payments for Ecosystem Services) is for you including some important factors to consider in deciding to sign up for PES
  • Status of document in contractual terms
  • Desirability of seeking independent advice

The proposed PES scheme

  • What we are offering for SWW (South West Water) and other investors to ‘buy’: peatland management for water supply and quality, with an option to bundle carbon and biodiversity management/development for corporate CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) purposes
  • Potential interest for other investors in carbon and biodiversity benefits
  • Background to ESS (Ecosystem Services) and PES more generally, including links to the development of a UK Peatland Carbon Code
  • The relationship of this prospectus to the important and growing role of ESS and PES thinking in government policy and land management more generally

Basis (es) of offer

  •  The ‘offer’ to landowners and managers interested in selling their ESS
  •  The offer to companies and other potential investors in biodiversity and carbon in the south-west

Factors and issues for sellers and buyers to consider in deciding whether to join PES programme

  • Contractual aspects: length of agreement, review terms, break clauses, succession, other key terms and what they mean
  • Land tenure arrangements
  • Effects on other interested parties, eg tenants, landlords, graziers, commoners, rights of turbary, manorial rights, owners of sporting and mineral rights, implications for succession and inheritance,
  • Practical farming considerations
    • Series of sub-headings
    • Animal welfare and health considerations
    • Relationship with statutory schemes and designations (ESA, HLS, ELS, GAEC obligations etc)
    • Public liability and insurance questions/CROW Access Land
    • Other business considerations, eg relationship to diversification opportunities
    • Maintenance obligations and concerns
    • Taxation: VAT, Income Tax, Inheritance and Capital Gains Tax, Stamp Duty Land Tax [Corporation Tax]
    • Ongoing obligations [may be covered by contractual aspects or cross-linked]
    • Impact on capital values
    • Security/risk judgements

Decision Tree

Two decisions trees, one for site selection; the other to help land managers to work through the options.

Site suitability, eg

  • Peatland – known mapped damage – further investigation by survey team – detailed mapping – determine if damage restorable – evaluate impact on farming activity – evaluate drainage/wetness implications for surrounding farmland


  •  Identify all interests in site: tenure, other rights, designations, schemes
  • Liaise with other interests and stakeholders
  • Identify new management requirements
  • Consider compatibility with existing management and schemes, and potential to gain funding from conservation related initiatives through providing more sustainable habitat
  • Identify any needs for adapted management or farming policy
  • Consider scope to release other resources for alternate uses
  • For non-compatibility, evaluate ‘better’ option: in or out of PES and review for alternatives
  • Assess financial benefits and costs

A suggested approach to financial aspects

Costs saved

  •   Eg some livestock purchases
Extra costs, eg

  •   Time for access to more difficult ground
  •   Vet and med bills
  •   Insurance
  •   Feed
  •   Machinery costs if contracting to be offered


Extra Revenue, eg

  •   PES Income
  •   Contracting opportunities for SWW
Lost Revenue

  •   Eg some livestock LWG or sales
Balance positive: financially worthwhile

– Consider capital and tax implications

Balance positive: not financially worthwhile

Conclusion: pulling it all together

Next steps and who to contact for further information

Please forward comments on this draft to:

Charles Cowap, MRICS FAAV

NERC Project Team

For further information or to discuss any points on this synopsis, please contact either Charles Cowap as above (or phone 07947 706505), or Dr David Smith, SWW, 07824 460274 (

[Reproduced in full from a document circulated on 5 March 2013 to stakeholder representatives]

Development of a Peatland Ecosystem Services Scheme on the South West Mires and Moors

Slides presented by Dr David Smith and Charles Cowap at an evening meeting of the Agricultural Law Association, kindly hosted by Michelmores LLP at their Exeter Office on 26 February 2013.

Dr David Smith first reviewed work in recent years on the benefits of peatland restoration work in the south west, for water management, carbon capture and habitat and biodiversity management.

David then went on to explain why South West Water is interested in securing clean supplies of water from upland areas

Finally Charles Cowap presented the work he has been doing with South West Water in a project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council with Leeds and Birmingham City Universities.

Questions and discussions continued in a lively fashion for some time after the presentations, both formally and informally over refreshments kindly provided by Michelmores.

Top 10 Natural Business Opportunities: all 12 of them

The top ten business opportunities to protect and value nature’s services have been identified.  With ties for first and ninth places, there are actually 12 of them.  Most of them have implications and opportunities for you if you manage land.

Opportunities for Business Report

Equal first place went to Biodiversity Offsetting and Conservation Banking, tied with the development of a Peatland Carbon Code.  Biodiversity offsetting allows a developer to offset environmental impacts by paying for the management of natural assets elsewhere.  This has been estimated as a market of £50 to £300 million a year from housing alone, and developers have said they are keen to see it develop with the costs deducted from current prices paid for development land (adding to the political attraction of such a scheme).  The business opportunities arise not only from the management of natural assets with this funding, but also from brokerage, certification and registration schemes.

A Peatland Carbon Code would in some ways be a very particular example of biodiversity offsetting, with payments made to peatland managers for its restoration and care based on the storage of carbon – see my last post on the role of peat in carbon capture and storage for a little more background on this.

Third place went to the production of woodfuel and fourth to the development of a UK ecosystem services knowledge economy.

Fifth place is particularly important to rural land managers: the development of Layered PES (what? Layered Payments for Ecosystem Services (What? Read on ….)).  An example might be the management of upland peat in a water catchment or flood risk area.  The water company wants to gather water in as clean a condition as possible – that’s one layer of PES.  Industry five counties away wants to offset its carbon output – that’s another layer of PES.  A consortium of insurance companies or developers wants to invest in flood protection – yet another layer of PES.  This of course calls into play brokerage, registration, certification as well as appropriate management of the asset itself.

Carbon sequestration as an allowable solution to the challenge of zero carbon housing is in sixth place – back to peat again, plus tree growing and very important throughout the property sector from rural land management to planning and building new housing.

Sustainability Certification and Sustainable Tourism sit in seventh and eighth places respectively.

Ninth equal is taken by the opportunities to develop water re-use technology – indirectly important to the construction industry, and the development of the UK as a global centre of excellence for ESS (Ecosystem Services) Certification.

The eleventh place is taken by the opportunity for the insurance industry to reduce the risk of large claims due to natural catastrophe through the development of green infrastructure – absorbent areas of open country to slow and absorb flood runoff for example.  Peat again!

Final position twelve goes to the development of environmental bonds – investment opportunities backed by the government to make finance available to eco-entrepreneurs to raise money on competitive terms.  So that’s where some of the money is going to come from.

Many more opportunities are outlined in the full reports, which can be seen here

Despite their unappealing language it is very clear that these developments have enormous implications – many of them excellent opportunities – for land managers, owners and occupiers in the next few years.  It’s time to become an eco-entrepreneur and learn a new lexicon.

Peat and Carbon: imagine an A4 box, fill it with peat and store 4 ounces of carbon

I have been trying to understand the scale of carbon storage in peat this evening.

The National Trust website told me that one cubic metre of peat can store about 100 kg of carbon.  It went on to say that this amount of carbon is produced by a car travelling 2,000 miles.  I wanted to get these figures into some sort of perspective, so here is what I did.

  • It’s 400 miles from London to Glasgow, so 2,000 miles is 5 trips between these two cities.

But just what does 100 kg of carbon in one cubic metre look like?  I took a piece of A4 paper and made a small container by drawing parellel lines 70 mm in from each edge:

Cutting the paper

Next I folded the paper into a small box:

The small box made from A4 paper

The volume of this small box is 769 cu cm, or about 1/1000th of a cubic metre.  For wet peat, that’s about 1.1 kg of peat (see here for peat‘s bulk density)

At 100 kg of carbon per cubic metre, that means this little box would hold about 100 grammes of carbon.  Hand-rolling and pipe tobacco used to come in 25 and 50 gramme tins (previously 1 ounce and 2 ounces).  Here’s a picture to give an idea of this:

Two tins of pipe tobacco = 100 grammes

And here are the two tins in the small box:

This much carbon in this much peat

According to Natural England:

  • England’s peat stores 584 million tonnes of carbon
  • Peat covers 11% of England’s land area but much of it is in poor condition; only 2% is under active restoration
  • Deep peaty soils are classified as those more than 40 cm deep, but they can be up to 8 metres deep.  These cover 6,799 sq km.
  • There’s a balance between peat restoration by rewetting for carbon storage, and the release of methane by rewetting.  But the balance favours rewetting and carbon storage

So the next time you are standing on a peat bog, 50 cm deep, in size 8 boots:

Size 8 boot

Consider this:

  • There’s about 1 kg of stored carbon under each foot, or about a bag of sugar
A bag of sugar under each foot

Carbon storage in peat is one of the most promising ecosystem service business ideas in a report published last week.  It’s worth a look.

University funding and the future of upland farming

“Blogging”, “blogging” or just plain blogging?  This is my first venture into blogging so let’s try to keep it plain.  The general theme of my blog is going to be education and the rural economy.  What is the blog: the individual article, or the collection of articles?  Is there another collective noun?  Until I know better I will assume that Blog=Article as well as collective noun.  In my first blog I want to look at the future of higher education funding and the future of upland farming (yawn – still with me here?).  They have both been in the news this week because the government has responded to the Browne Review of higher education funding, and the House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking at the future of upland communities.  As a rural educator currently charged with developing work-based education, what’s going to happen?

The Browne Review and the government’s response: it will cost more than ever to go to university, up to £9,000 in fees alone.  Loans will be available to cover this, repayable once salary hits £21,000 at higher interest rates than previously, over a maximum period of 30 years.  Any outstanding debt is then written off.  There will be penalties for early repayment.  Universities won’t actually get any more money, because the funding burden shifts to the students themselves and direct government funding will be cut. 

Impact on agicultural higher education: Higher education for agriculture is very concentrated at two or three specialised university colleges.  A significant proportion of higher education for the rural land-based sector is offered in local colleges, accredited by a partner university.  The specialised colleges have a distinctive ethos.  It is likely they will continue to attract significant numbers of students, for social and environmental as much as academic reasons.  The colleges can be very pleasant places to be.  Economic analysis in this sector is far from straightforward.   Farmers are often classified amongst the lower social groups for statistical purposes.  Income levels can be very low, despite high asset values in the industry (this in itself is a significant economic challenge in the sector).  Self-employment, or progression within the family business, may be the future for young men and women brought up on farms.  Higher education may be less expensive to members of these groups because low incomes mean access to student support.  On the other hand, those studying closer to home may be doing so because they are a key worker on the home farm.  One trainer in the North East told me that the cost to the farm of such a youngster leaving to study was in the order of £50,000 to £60,000 a year (value of lost labour input, additional cost of replacement labour, cost of support while away etc).  The new fee proposals jsut increased that to £56,000 to £66,000 a year – about 12%.  So this picture is complex.

Future of upland farming: For years we have supported upland farming through various government schemes.  Increasingly we have asked the recipients of this largesse to provide us with a widening range of benefits: environmental management, landscape, leisure opportunities and so on.  But the outlook for such support is doubtful.  Most are agreed that it is important to keep farmers in the uplands because they provide a cost-effective way to manage extensive tracts of land.  We value its appearance and environmental value as a farmed landscape.  Food security has now re-emerged as a key issue, and the upland areas can make significant contributions here too.  However, much of the national infrastructure that supported technical development in hill and upland farming has quietly withered away over the last 20 or more years: specialist research stations, experimental husbandry farms, and a consequent dispersal of specialist hill farming expertise from the northern colleges.  At its simplest the outlook for public support is this: less if any at all; certainly not more.

Putting these two streams together we must face up to this question: if young men and women from the hills will no longer afford to go away to university, if other support for farming in the hill and upland areas is going to reduce, what can be done?  Are we willing to see abandonment of upland holdings?  Does this mean there will be economic opportunities, or will holdings be abandoned for good reason? Those who remain committed to, and passionate about, the future of upland farming will have to look to their own resources.  It is also clear that hard evidence will be needed to justify continued public investment.  The abolition of the Commission for Rural Communities also sees the loss of an independent rural voice to government.  So how can the people in the hills help themselves?

One idea we have been working on is the idea of locally-based self-help groups.  Without taking up too much space here with the evolution of this idea, our current thinking is to establish learning groups of leading farmers and others whose work brings them close to farmers.  It’s hard to avoid educational jargon at this point, but the general idea would be for the group to work together to:

  • Identify the technical challenges – coupled with the opportunities (for example the potential role for upland peat areas in carbon management)
  • To prepare together a development plan under which each member of the group will take the lead in exploring and sharing the latest information and data.  The group will sort out the formats for this guidance, and individual members will then draft it.  The group will then moderate the draft material.  This could be conventional technical notes or papers, but it could also be short videos or other useful presentation material.
  • Along the way, members of the group will learn about the importance of ‘advocacy’ and how to function effectively as rural advocates.
  • A group like this could also act as its own research unit, building up the evidence base needed to underpin its advocacy role.

The challenge now is to test this idea in the real world, and if it stands up to that to turn it into an educational reality.  Graduate Certificate in Upland Farming Development anybody?