Category Archives: News and Views

Listen to Our Founder, Julian Matthews

Julian Matthews on Green Finance Institute

In this week’s episode of Financing Nature, GFI Hive talks to long-time conservationist Julian Matthews of The Real Wild Estates Company about the business case for restoring nature. Julian’s business was recently invested in by the L’Oreal Fund for Nature Regeneration. Listen to the full episode here: https://lnkd.in/dm8aWzxC

Meet our Head of Nature Restoration, Benedict Macdonald

Benedict Macdonald

As Head of Nature Restoration for Real Wild Estates, I have had a lifelong passion for the natural world. From the tender age of five, I was raising small tortoiseshell butterflies in my rural garden and bringing them into school to release them, an early form of ‘rewilding’, as it were. Since that time, I have studied wildlife across all areas of the British landscape, from the Norfolk Broads to St Kilda, specialising in ornithology, but growing increasingly aware that the entire organism of the British countryside was in a state of collapse. Whether working as volunteer studying nesting birds for the BTO, or in my ten years working in 60 countries, as a wildlife film-director for the BBC, Apple & Netflix, the conclusions I came to were the same: Britain has only a fraction of the biodiversity and abundance it once did, and could have again.

 

In 2014, I began work on my first book, Rebirding, which was published in 2019. The inaugural winner of the Wainwright Prize for Global Conservation, it galvanised interest across the UK, from farmers to larger landowners and NGOs, as to the urgent need to restore nature at scale. In the past two years, I have now taken the next step in that journey, driving the nature restoration narrative forwards. Working for Real Wild Estates has provided a unique opportunity to fuse nature restoration with ethical investment and financial returns, ensuring we can now partner with landowners to return far larger areas to nature than was previously possible through charitable actions alone. With over 30,000 acres coming online for us before the end of 2022, we now have a privileged opportunity to help restore ecosystems in the UK, as our client base continues to grow week by week.

In spite of this, restoring wildlife is only one driver for me. My own family descend from ‘cleared’ farmers in Scotland, on one side, and Pembrokeshire potato farmers, on the other. Restoring people to our ever-quieter rural landscapes, often devoid of young people, is an absolutely critical part of my mission. Whether working with farmers on naturalistic grazing that still delivers a great return on meat, or gamekeepers on deer-management in the Highlands, exciting conversations are already underway, involving both existing employees of land-holdings and potential new employees who can benefit from ecological restoration. And already one thing is clear – we need never apologise for restoring land to nature. Indeed, the greatest beneficiary of this process is not Real Wild Estates, or even our clients – but local people, and the rich diversity of jobs that a restored landscape creates.

Benedict Macdonald

To order one of Ben’s bestselling books click here

 

Archie Egar, getting ready for ‘Land for Nature’

GETTING READY FOR LAND FOR NATURE 2022

Last year, the UK land market saw huge demand from buyers looking to purchase farms and estates for natural capital, carbon net zero commitments and biodiversity purposes. Whilst the larger 1,000+ acre properties are occasionally openly marketed, the top-class properties are typically available quietly off-market. Whether it was 15,000 acres in Scotland or 1,000+ acres in England or Wales, the private market was incredibly active in 2021 with many of these exciting opportunities being snapped up by these natural capital purchasers. Strong demand from institutional investors and corporations looking to satisfy their net zero aspirations, alongside HNWI nature based legacy and lifestyle investments, has spurred on capital values and this interest is expected to continue its growth as the carbon market gains further traction. Positive forecasts for the future of natural capital and carbon pricing and new carbon codes currently under development are going to continue driving this interest into 2022. As we approach spring, the 2022 property market is starting up again and we are already aware of interesting properties suitable for nature restoration, including woodland carbon sequestration and peatland recovery (avoided emissions) projects, and potential biodiversity credits in the future with the forthcoming Nature Related Financial Disclosure reporting (TNFD) coming in 2023. With landowners seeing the huge interest and top prices achieved last year, we expect to see some quality properties becoming available over the coming year. If you need expert advice on land acquisition for natural restoration, with these natural capital payments and carbon sequestration opportunities, or similarly tailored nature based management advice, please contact Archie Egar on archie@realwildestates.com.

MYTH BUSTING – Nature Based Solutions

MYTH BUSTING – Nature Based Solutions

We have seen ‘Nature-based solutions’ (NBS), sometimes referred to as Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) rapidly gaining traction over the last few years, having not existed to any meaningful degree before that – at least as a concept, if not in practice. As a bona fide buzzword in the sustainability space, and a concept fundamental to our Real Wild Estates mission and indeed business model, it is worth taking a closer look at what lies behind this.

NBS refers to a range of projects which protect, improve or restore land and ecosystems in order to absorb more CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, thereby helping to mitigate climate change. While many may already be familiar with ‘forest-carbon’ – the (re-)planting and protection of trees to lock up carbon – as the best-known example of NBS, it also includes a wide range of natural ecosystems which sequester significant (and often greater) amounts of carbon. This includes peatlands (especially relevant to RWE given the significant peatland areas in the UK – more on that at a later date), grasslands, wetlands and ‘blue carbon’ – carbon captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems (e.g. seagrass meadows, mangroves and salt marshes).

NBS represents one of the cheapest and most effective tools we have at our disposal to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement; a study in 2017 calculated that NBS is capable of providing more than 33% of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed by the end of the decade to limit warming below 2 degrees. Another study in 2019 cites forest restoration as one of the cheapest and most effective strategies for climate change mitigation, claiming it has the potential to store around 66% of all carbon emissions from human activities that exist in the atmosphere today.

In addition to its effectiveness in removing carbon from the atmosphere (or preventing its release), we’ve seen first-hand how NBS projects help create in-tact, biodiverse ecosystems crucial for the flipside of the coin, namely supporting society in adapting to the climate change impacts we have already set in motion. For example, mangroves provide coastal communities with protection from storm surges, restored wetlands and forests serve as buffers against flooding and mud-/landslides, green spaces provide shade and cooling for urban heat islands, while healthy, biodiverse forests can help mitigate droughts and are typically more resilient to pest and fire outbreaks which will proliferate in our changing climate.

Aside from its benefits in mitigating and adapting to climate change, NBS projects provide a range of very important co-benefits (or ‘ecosystem services’) which underpin businesses, communities and livelihoods; this includes improving water security, creating suitable micro-climates for crop cultivation, regulating pest and disease outbreaks, providing habitats for commercially or culturally important species and crops (e.g. fish nurseries) and protecting biodiversity for tourism, medical research, food security and R&D breakthroughs etc (a recent favourite being how algorithms behind autonomous vehicles are mimicking the way ants optimise their search for food to avoid accidents and creating traffic).

Recognising the many and diverse benefits of NBS, a number of businesses and organisations have used it to both meet climate change targets and boost the resilience and performance of their own supply chains and operations simultaneously – also known as ‘Insetting. To give one example, both Ben & Jerry’s and Nespresso have invested in agro-forestry projects to offset their carbon emissions, but also to provide ideal growing conditions for their crops (e.g. coffee, cocoa), including protection from landslides, soil erosion and heavy rain, and for the provision of shade and stable micro-climates.

Set against a backdrop of growing concern for nature loss and an ever-diminishing timeline for climate action – and with ever greater focus on nature during the recent climate COP in Glasgow (to say nothing of the landmark ‘Nature’ [CBD] COP in China later this year), I believe the stage is set for NBS to rapidly become one of the most powerful and versatile tools available to us in our bid to tackle climate change and the growing nature crisis.

Making nature restoration a viable land use option

Making nature restoration a viable land use option.

Real Wild Estates has already worked out the metrics to make nature restoration a viable land use option, so this Savills ‘Business of Rewilding’ spotlight report published this January just confirms what we are already telling real asset investors and present landowners. What it doesn’t highlight is that some other options and opportunities today can make restoring ecosystems even more viable and even more resilient.

The research below highlights that it is now more profitable to convert to a rewilding land use system, than two other forms of land use; arable contract farming and tenancy farming.

COMPARATIVE ECONOMICS OF RURAL BUSINESS MODELS

Savills Research Jan 2022

Farm Business Tenancy
Arable contract farming agreement
REWILDING conversion
Income

(£/ha/yr)

  • Arable rental income

 

 

  • Winter wheat, oil seed rape, spring barley (three crop rotation)
  • Sustainable Farming incentive (arable soil standard intermediate level)

 

 

  • WD6 – creation of wood pasture
  • SP9 – native breeds at risk supplement
  • OR1 – Organic conversion
  • Grazing licence fee

 

£263 £1491 £575
Costs

(£/ha/yr)

  • None

 

 

  • Seeds
  • Fertiliser
  • Spray
  • Contractors costs and profit share

 

  • Grass seed, tree planting costs (100% grant funded)
  • Livestock handling (90% grant funded)
  • Fencing, water supply for livestock (60% grant funded)

 

£0

£1128

£13

Net margin

(£/ha/yr)

£263 £363 £562

*all models exclude Basic Payment scheme income. Rewilding model assumes a 200ha project and capital costs are depreciated over 10 years.

 

Firstly, these figures are wholly government funded Stewardship conversions (from just 3 of the 130 stewardship options available!), and one of the things that any landowner will tell you, is that being too dependent on government subsidies is not a good business plan. The key to the future is diverse income streams that decrease the various risks that land managers have always faced.

Secondly these figures do not include any of the new payment options that are coming down the line, collectively known as natural capital, including carbon sequestration from the huge market for offsets and net zero commitments by corporates and the financial community; water catchment payments from water utilities, biodiversity net gain possibilities, or those payments still in their infancy but we believe will figure prominently in the future including soil carbon (i.e. soil health) and biodiversity credits. Our own WildnCat yield modelling tool can help landowners and investors calculate these into the future.

Being realistic, not all natural capital options will be applicable or viable to all landowners  and the problem of economies of scale will always beset the application of natural capital payments to many, particularly smallholders, but it does highlight the extraordinary turnaround in both our collective public attitude to this form of future land use, but also the government’s desire, post Brexit and the EU’s Common Agricultural policy, to restore the UK biodiversity from its present position at the very bottom of the rankings of the least biodiverse countries on our fragile planet.

The Tigress who saved an Indian wilderness

Collarwali and her five cub litter in Pench 2012 c Karun Verma

Collarwali with her ‘famous five’ sub adult cubs in 2012. Copyright Karun Verma

I knew the tigress Collarwali or ‘Mataram’,Respected Mother’ in Hindi, who died 2 days ago. She is a legend in the Pench Tiger Reserve, a wildland that straddles the Madhya Pradesh and Maharashta borders of India. This is not just because she was a great matriarch who lived in the core of the park, where nature tourism was allowed, and where she was comfortable around the many excited visitors and their vehicles in her guarded territory. This was not just because she was happy to show her extraordinary 8 litters, 29 boisterous cubs, to all who found her, including her ‘famous five’ cubs she nurtured to adulthood. This was not simply because so many of her cubs survived to adulthood that she repopulated a denuded landscape with her offspring. This was not only because a BBC film was made of her, countless articles written and scientists studied her every move. It was more than that.

It was because over the last 16 years of her life, she has created a viable, expanding and intact wilderness in which she and her family could survive and prosper. She literally saved her wilderness.

How did she do this, almost single handedly?  Simple. Nature based economics.

Pench was a forgotten park in 2000 – it had been an artillery practice range in the Second World War and had been stripped bare of commercial wood decades before. Then poaching and extraction were rife, guards poorly paid and respected scientists were surprised that such a large herbivore population failed to sustain tigers. Then one naturalist and brave entrepreneur who loved the park, set up a small lodge in early 2004. Most people thought he was mad. Why here, when better parks were nearby that you could see tigers in?  ‘Visitors and tigers will come’ he said. He was right.

The small Turia village besides the park entrance slowly began to see the benefits and the jobs created. The visitors began to come, the park attracted more interest from media and politicians. There was money to be made after all. Soon many visitors, more jobs, more lodges, and other bordering villages began to see the benefits of this new nature based economy. The park director’s job became more important and his staff now saw the benefits of increasingly park fee revenues. The local park guides from the bordering villages now stopped being the victims of conservation and became some of the beneficiaries, encouraging support for the park and its precious wildlife once again. Bollywood celebrities, politicians and even prime ministers started visiting to see what the fuss was about. Pench had gone from unknown, unloved and uncared for, to known, cherished and better funded – in a single decade.

For my small part, I found a 10,000 acre neglected patch of forest adjoining Pench in 2009 called Rukkad and Kurai, and asked to set up a community based conservancy here, to expand the park size by a third. Here was a perfect opportunity to expand the present park and protect critical and contiguous forest landscape to an adjoining park; the better known Kanha Tiger reserve. My proposal was agreed by the Madhya Pradesh government at the time, but rejected by the federal government sadly in April 2010. Today I am delighted this forest is now part and parcel of Pench Tiger Reserve and many of Collarwali’s offspring have benefited from this restored and protected patch of forest in the last decade.

In 2010, my charity TOFTigers had calculated and published that a single tigress in Rajasthan was worth $110million over her lifetime to the local economy. Collarwali was probably worth the same to Madhya Pradesh.

Thank you and rest in peace Collarwali.