North Devon – a great example of what a Biosphere can achieve

By Andy Bell of The North Devon Biosphere

North Devon Biosphere’s innovative new programmes: trials for the new Environmental Land Management Scheme; Pledge for Nature

UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme has established 668 Reserves in 122 countries, with the intention of securing a better future through linking people and nature. Of the six designated in the UK, the first was that of North Devon. The Biosphere carries out numerous projects underpinned by the three functions of conservation and caretaking, learning and research, and sustainable development.

Of the current projects, one is a test for the new Environment Land Management Scheme, working in partnership with the Defra Landscape Scale Pioneer programme, and will be testing a new approach to agri-environment policy and support.

“The trial seeks to achieve a change in how farm businesses regard the environment as an essential part of their business assets for farm business resilience,” explains North Devon Biosphere Reserve Manager Andy Bell. “The trial will operationalise the natural capital approach at both the landscape and farm holding levels. At the heart of this trial will be gaining consensus on the natural capital priorities for the landscape across a broad range of stakeholders, including land managers and communities and clearly articulating these to land managers, encouraging them to make natural capital offers to meet the demand for public goods and services.”

“The proposal also explores with the farmer how the good stewardship of these natural features is also an intrinsic part of the farm business for reducing risks from prosecution and ensuring supply chain resilience to ever more savvy buyers; effectively linking a sound environment with a sound business.”

North Devon Biosphere have been working with landowners for the last year through group meetings to introduce the trials to ensure will be as effective as possible. The trial will work through using agreed landscape scale priorities. The team then work with farmers to decide on which natural capital indicators are most relevant for their holding, and what level of offer on each indicator they will try to deliver. The natural capital scenarios will then be costed using current payment rates (income foregone plus costs) and the farmer will identify a preference to generate their Natural Capital offer.

“By mid- February we will be working with farmers in the North Devon area, having completed the four landscape scale plans,” added Andy Bell “We hope to develop the environment and business plans with 28 farmers in total.”

‘Pledge for Nature’ is a new project which launched early in 2020 and aims to reverse the decline in North Devon’s nature by galvanising community action from all parts of society.

The project invites citizens, schools, landowners, and businesses to join Seasonal Activities to tackle priority issues for nature’s recovery, with the ambition of securing more space and wilder areas in farmland, gardens, and greenspaces. It is financially supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Devon County Council and a successful Crowdfunder campaign.