Pressure for land 'threatens natural resources'
By Paul Eccleston
The Daily Telegraph
Last Updated: 2:36am GMT 16/03/2008
Growing demand for land to build homes is putting pressure on precious natural resources, a National Trust report says.
A rising population is fuelling the need for more space to grow food, build homes and work places and was stretching vital environmental life-support services to the limit.
The report says land and its natural resources were undervalued, underfunded and needed better care.
It calls for more money to be pumped into protecting the major public benefits from the land including drinking water, flood protection, better health and help in tackling climate change.
The trust, which manages 250,000 hectares of open countryside and 700 miles of coastline, says it had drawn on its experience as Britain's biggest landowner after the Government in writing its Nature's Capital report.
The report says it is important to understand what the nation needs from its land and how best to deliver it.
“Land provides the nation with a range of environmental services, including clean water, protection from flooding, carbon storage and green space for the health of us all. We all need these vital services, but they are not yet properly valued or provided for,” it says.
The report claims investment now would save public money later in tackling the problems of climate change, flooding, water pollution and poor health.
It sets out four key recommendations. The 2 billion spent in the past five years on an energy intensive treatment process to improve drinking water quality would have been better used to tackle the problem at source.
More of the Government's 800 million flood risk budget should be spent on managing land in a way that made space for water rather than spending it all on hard engineering and flood defence.
This would help reduce the risk of floods downstream as happened in the flooding in Gloucestershire and Yorkshire last summer.
The report calls for the carbon markets to be extended to provide financial incentives for investment in land based carbon, such as peat bogs, to reduce losses of carbon from soil.
An estimated 10 billion ton of carbon is stored in the ground in Britain, mostly in peatlands – equivalent to 18 months of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The final recommendation said more NHS and Primary Care Trust funding should be allocated for green “exercise prescriptions” in the outdoors to help tackle obesity and improve health and well-being.
Tony Burton, the director of policy and strategy at the National Trust, said: “With a changing climate and rising demands for new built development, the pressure on land is increasing. We need to harness new sources of investment and new partnerships to realise the potential of our land to help tackle flooding, climate change and the supply of clean water and green spaces for the benefit of us all.”
Shortly after he became Prime Minister, Gordon Brown pledged that he would put the housing crisis at the top of the political agenda.
He announced the creation of three million extra homes by the end of the next decade with a house building target of 240,000 homes per year.
More than 500 government-owned surplus sites were to be assessed for the building of 100,000 new homes and a further 60,000 were to be built on brown field sites owned by local councils.
The Prime Minister also disclosed plans for a series of “eco towns” where low-carbon homes would be built.
Conservation groups feared that a huge expansion of house building combined with a shortage of suitable land would lead to the Green Belt being built on.
The report said there was great potential for creative measures to pay farmers and land managers for providing environmental services, with the added benefits of boosting biodiversity and enhancing the landscape.
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