Land is a fundamental resource that can help us with the biodiversity and climate crisis.
Land can provide us with nutritious food and a range of useful materials. For too long the land, a source of health and wealth, has been in the hands of the rich and powerful. That needs to change for us to have a future for our children and society. With owning land come responsibilities. Land must be cared for in a way that serves the Common Good.
Patterns of land ownership have created huge distortions in society – as seen in the current housing crisis. Individuals and families are unable to find a dwelling that is fit to live in. We see small numbers of wealthy individuals in possession of vast swathes of land. Land owners often exclude ramblers and families walking for health. Instead they manage the land destructively, often for prestige and shooting games. The government, looking for solutions to climate change and the loss of wildlife, is oblivious to the solution that is below their feet, focusing instead only on increasing GDP.
In March, the Green Party Conference passed a new and radical land policy. A Green Party in power would create a link between ownership and stewardship of land for the common good. Owners and landlords would have to manage land to bring back flourishing ecosystems, harnessing natural cycles and absorbing greenhouse gases. A healthy ecosystem would give us a more resilient food supply. It would protect us against floods and droughts. To achieve this, Local (Commons) Trusts would have a say over how land in their community is managed for the common good. There would, in the last extreme, be penalties for not looking after land well.
To do this, we must know who actually owns land, and it would be set out in law that the beneficial owner of all land would appear in the land register, making it harder for land owners to hold land purely for speculative investment.
Some types of land have special benefits. Peatland, wetland, saltmarsh and grassland have been accumulating for hundreds or thousands of years. They act as natural carbon sinks. They are rich in biodiversity. They often have additional functions such as purifying our water supply. Such places will be designated as nationally significant infrastructure. This will be in addition to existing designations such as National Parks and ancient woodland.
We cannot continue to rely on building materials that are huge carbon emitters, such as steel and concrete. But we can rely on our land to produce raw materials, such as wood, hemp and flax to displace them.
We would introduce a Land Commission similar to the one that already exists in Scotland, to provide policy and best practice advice on the rights and responsibility of ownership.
We have created a model of how land might be used in future. We propose that changes in land use start now and should be nearing completion in 10 years time.
This huge change would require changes to the planning system, investment in and expansion of agricultural colleges to provide land-based apprenticeships and in research. We must show farmers and other landowners how and why they need to manage our land differently. Start-up funding for young entrepreneurs in agriculture and horticulture would be needed, as well as properly funded farm and land business advisory services.
Yes, this will cost, we estimate about £10bn per annum (compared with £2bn per annum in farming support now). But we cannot afford not to make these changes!