Sir – I was shocked to read the proposed sequestration figures in recent farming press. A figure of 3.67 tonnes CO2/ha is quoted for grass buffer strips but no sequestration in permanent grass.

If a buffer strip is in place for more than five years and a fence erected between the crop and the buffer strip, this would make the buffer strip permanent grass with no sequestration according to these figures.

I have read a few articles on sequestration, but none has quoted a 3.67 tonnes/ha reduction caused by erecting a new fence. Similarly, a field margin is by definition permanent grass, sequestrating 0.198 tonnes/ha?

I suspect the Scottish Government is being made to look bad by calling the same thing (permanent grass) three different things – permanent grass, field margin and grass buffer strip. Surely if grass sequestrates carbon in two of these scenarios, it also sequestrates carbon in the third?

If these figures were to be used to allocate greening money to sequestration the arable stakeholders would be laughing all the way to the bank. Arable farmers plough and cultivate the ground, this loosens the soil particles allowing the escape of CO2 and CH4 (methane), these are formed by the breakdown of old roots and vegetable matter incorporated into the ground by these cultivations.

One journal I read quoted 10-30% sequestration for annual plants and 30-50% sequestration for perennials. Arable ground is mostly planted with annual plants, meaning there is less sequestration and more release of greenhouse gas.

Arable ground is often around 3-5% carbon. Most permanent grassland is made up of perennial grasses, a farmer near Dumfries tested some permanent grassland, the carbon content of it was claimed to be 18%.

One would expect higher levels of sequestration in permanent grass than in any other crop. If you look in a garden vegetable plot you can easily lift a handful or forkful of soil; if you then try to lift the soil in the lawn you will find this very difficult because of all the roots.

Roots contain hydrocarbons, therefore there is more carbon contained below the soil when there are more roots. More root surface area would probably lead to more sequestration.

Livestock farmers are persecuted about methane produced by cudding, methane is said to produce 37 times more global warming than CO2, methane is CH4, when mixed with O2 in the atmosphere it forms CO2 and two molecules of H2O (water).

Methane breaks down very quickly and only a very small percentage lasts a few years, the real problem is because, as CO2, it does not break down. This is the same problem with mechanically recovered methane (natural gas) in the gas central heating boilers as fitted in the majority of houses, offices, factories, and maybe even parliamentary buildings.

Natural gas is sourced from two miles underground, when it is burnt in the atmosphere (which is 80% N (nitrogen) and 20% O2 (oxygen)) it produces CO2, H2O and N2O (nitrous oxide); CO2 is an everlasting greenhouse gas, H2O as water vapour is a greenhouse gas, N2O is said to be 300 times more polluting than CO2.

As the carbon in the CO2 comes from underground, this increases the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. The H (hydrogen) in the H2O comes from underground also increasing the amount of water above ground level leading to more rainfall and rising river and sea levels.

Burning this methane also produces heat warming the atmosphere especially, in towns and cities, which the weatherman tells us is 2-3°C warmer than the countryside. This means towns and cities are warming the countryside up and not vice versa.

Another large source of methane is ventilated soil stacks from every WC (diffuse pollution) as sewers contain the same ingredients as slurry pits.

Animals use C (carbon) to produce meat, milk, bone, carbon dioxide to breath out, excrement and methane to burp. The only source of carbon is their food.

My suckler cows and sheep eat mostly grass and preserved grass. Grass photosynthesises’ during daylight hours extracting CO2 from the atmosphere, breathing out O2 (oxygen), retaining the C, some C is used to grow leaf and stem, some is used to grown roots and sequestration. This means my animals source of carbon is the atmosphere.

As grass retains some C underground, the amount of C returned to the atmosphere decreases with each cycle. This helps to cool the earth and temperate grass is usually regarded as the largest sequestrater of C in the world – after plankton in the ocean.

If there is no sequestration by permanent grass, a farmer informs the ministry that he is planting an arable crop on a permanent grass field, on his Single Farm Payment claim form. He will create a new field margin and possibly a new buffer strip.

These new areas should then start sequestrating carbon. How will this work, especially on two different levels?

Ploughing the field would not work because grass, or a catch crop could be grown, this would not instigate sequestration.

Before man cultivated ground, permanent grasses covered the country, as ploughing does not instigate sequestration there can be no increase in sequestration in field margins, buffer strips or beetle banks just because the land is ploughed. In fact, my understanding is that beetle banks are formed by ploughing which has a negative impact on sequestration by releasing CO2 and CH4 (methane) back into the atmosphere – how many beetle banks are at 18% carbon?

We had an independent survey taken on a field of permanent pasture which found 114 different species of rare plants. I was talking to someone who worked in the Civil Service, they requested a copy, which I supplied.

Later I received a phone call to see if I would agree to a copy of the survey being sent to Europe as part of an application for environmental payments. This application was successful.

It is ironic that money gained from grassland management is going into trees and ploughing areas, as neither of these sequestrate any significant amount of carbon into the soil.

Under government schemes, we have planted hedges with fences 4m apart to form wildlife corridors, to prevent sheep nibbling the soft bark, allow flowers to mature and maintain a mat of vegetation as cover for field mice etc. We left the fences in situ.

These areas, therefore, are not in agricultural production. Areas not in agricultural production for more than three years are not entitled to single farm payment? This means we are penalised for environmental goods we produce on grassland.

We have dug ponds with buffer strips, we do not receive enhanced payments for these, I wonder if we receive single farm payment on these. The big question is, buffer strips, field margins and beetle banks, are they in agricultural production? Are they eligible for single farm payment?

A grass buffer strip is said to sequestrate 3.67 tonnes of CO2/ha/year. If to enhance biodiversity you planted 10 trees/ha this would create beautiful parkland sequestrating 0.48 tonnes/ha/year. This means each tree reduces sequestration into the ground by 0.319 tonnes/year.

A standard forest plantation has 2400 trees/ha, which equates to an extra 720 tonnes of CO2 left above ground /year for each ha of trees.

Peat bogs are said to contain more carbon than all the trees in western Europe, but many of the peat bogs I have seen have been covered by permanent grass. I would suggest the permanent grass sequestrates carbon into the ground, thus building up the peat levels over thousands of years.

I believe the above points suggest that all permanent grass sequestrates carbon whether it is field margin, buffer strip, parkland or the middle of a field.

RI Little