TOO MUCH focus on achieving net zero carbon emissions diminishes the importance of nature restoration and soil health in tackling climate change.

That was one of the messages that came out of this week's webinar exploring the opportunities and actions already being taken by UK farming to address the climate crisis.

Panellists argued that green-friendly decisions must also be viewed as business-friendly decisions and that 'tunnel tree vision' doesn't always deliver for biodiversity.

Arable farmer Tom Clarke, who is a member of the NFU Net Zero Steering Group, argued the case for environmentally friendly farming: “A lot of the decisions which will help a farmer get towards net zero are the same decisions which will help the bottom line, such as reducing your inputs,” he said, nodding to examples such as a reduction in fertiliser use and installing solar panels to reduce electricity costs.

“We need to be better at realising that green decisions are also good business decisions."

Johnnie Balfour of Balbirnie Home Farms, near Glenrothes, concurred: “Nature friendly farming is business friendly farming – it makes sense. We have reduced our machinery needs over the last few years, we have 400hp fewer tractors sitting in our yard than we did five years ago and we are trying to get ourselves off the hamster wheel of conventional agriculture, where we run very fast to run very still."

Liz Bowles from the Soil Association was keen to stress that net zero can’t be the only goal: “There is so much focus on reaching net zero but alongside that, if we are really effectively to tackle climate change, we also need to be look at restoring nature and soil.

“In England, we have a clearer picture of what sustainable farming incentive offers to farmers,” she said, referencing the Environmental Land Management Scheme. “However, what it doesn’t offer is a true framework for enabling whole farm system transition – which is needed. This is what offers the most benefit both in terms of reaching net zero while supporting biodiversity and soil health.”

As discussions turned to political interest in tree planting, Ms Bowles explained that trees were so far up the agenda in Scotland due to their ability to remove carbon from the environment now, which was critical if temperature rises were to be limited to 1.5 degrees this next decade.

However, she added a warning: “Simply planting trees but not thinking about how that tree will deliver in the landscape may not deliver for biodiversity. How we manage soil has a massive impact on the individual carbon footprint of farms and we need to plant trees somewhere, but we need to put the right tree in the right place.”

Mr Clarke stressed that political parties mustn’t have ‘tree tunnel vision’ and farming should be recognised for the many other ways in which they can sequester and store carbon.

Mr Balfour shared his concerns on Scotland’s current approach: “In Scotland, we have got to a point in thinking planting Sitka Spruce is a good thing because on average the carbon footprint looks okay, but if a wood is planted that is native woodland which has integrated animals and is going to be managed without massive machines and not felled after 35 years, the footprint of that will be very different to that of a 35 year Sitka plantation,” he concluded.