Saturday, April 06, 2013

Values, land and the future

click photo to enlarge
What price can be put on a piece of farmland? All land has a market value which equates with as much as someone is prepared to pay. But market value is only one measure of value: agricultural land has values that exceed that narrow measure.

Today's photograph shows a field of pasture on the Lincolnshire Fens. When I took my photograph it was looking a bit the worse for wear after a wet winter and a cold spring. But the sheep and their lambs were finding sustenance in the grass. Farther out in the field lapwings were feeding and occasionally flinging themselves through the air in their courtship flight. A buzzard was surveying the scene from one of the hedgerow trees, and through the bushes were flitting a family group of long-tailed tits. Barn owls frequently fly along the drainage ditches that border the field hoping to surprise an unsuspecting mouse or shrew, and the distinctive song of the yellowhammer can often be heard competing with that of its near relative, the reed bunting. Pasture fields are not common in the Fens where vegetable production prevails, so the value to wildlife of this piece of land is locally immense.

As it happens this land (and three nearby sites) have been shortlisted for a 49 acre substation that is to service the giant Triton Knoll wind farm that is being planned for the North Sea off the east coast. If you thought offshore turbines preferable because they didn't spoil the countryside then think again. The company that needs the substation concludes that this site and the three others it has short-listed can be built with the least environmental and socio-economic cost. The land here is categorised as Grade 2. The other sites are either Grade 1 or Grade 2. In 2011the Government published the Natural Environment White Paper "The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature" which, amongst many other things, sought to halt the decline in natural habitats, promote natural diversity and "protect our best and most versatile agricultural land" (a phrase used to describe land classified as Grade 1, Grade 2 or Grade 3a. Clearly concreting over fields such as this is completely contrary to those stated aims.

Our world of markets, money, profit and growth needs to factor into its calculations the idea of "natural capital": the land that as well as providing food, a commodity that is going to be ever more costly and in shorter supply in the future, also provides habitats for the wildlife without which our world is a dull, impoverished and arid place. The value of natural capital is enormous, eclipsing many of the more routine costs and values that are involved in everyday calculations. A proper valuation of the area of land in this photograph would result in a rethink about its suitability as a place build on.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 19.3mm (52mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/800
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On