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Professor David Hill CBE

Chairman and Founder, Environment Bank

Radically changing approaches to agriculture is essential in preserving the ‘natural capital’ of global biodiversity.

Chairman of Environment Bank, Professor David Hill, believes farmers and landowners must help rebuild and conserve the natural capital of biodiversity, pollinators, soils, landscapes, habitats and air and water quality.

Encouraging farmers to restore nature

Environment Bank was set up in 2006 to lobby government to require developers to provide gains for nature — and was successful. The Environment Act in 2021, requires developers to comply with the Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) mandate and adhere to nutrient neutrality compliance from housing schemes.

In support, the organisation offers alternative revenue streams to help landowners diversify their businesses and restore nature. With an initial £220 million to fund farmers to create large-scale habitat banks and transition land to places of high biodiversity, Environment Bank then sells the uplift as biodiversity net gain units to developers enabling them to comply with the law.

We must massively change how food is
grown, relying more on regenerative
agriculture and soil management.

Reliance on natural capital

As former Deputy Chair of Natural England, Hill underlines the benefits of natural capital — largely in the control of landowners and the farming sector — highlighting that as recently as 2019, the World Economic Forum calculated that 55% of global GDP relies on what nature provides.

“Biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are recognised as the two main existential threats to us, yet extractive and unsustainable food production systems have caused 70% of the decline of global biodiversity,” he adds.

Shifting towards regenerative agriculture

We must massively change how food is grown, relying more on regenerative agriculture and soil management. The farming industry must reverse years of damage through nature recovery and regenerating natural capital. Its reliance on insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers has to change because 52% of UK farms are failing to recover the costs of these inputs.

Using old methods to recover

As pests also build resistance to chemicals, he advocates new ways of growing food and returning to more historic methods such as building nitrogen in soils by using legumes; using rotational cropping; deploying smaller machinery (controlled now by robotics); embracing vertical farming.

“It is about using systems from many years ago but in a more effective and efficient way,” says Hill. Optimistic about delivering on the Government’s nature recovery plan, he believes farmers should see natural capital as a revenue generator as they work with developers on BNG and corporate businesses transitioning to a nature-positive ambition to secure future investment.

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