Examination of Witness

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 13th February 2020.

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George Monbiot:

One of my aims would be to reduce the area of land used for agriculture. All agriculture is a radical simplification of ecosystems, until you get to the point at which it is so extensive that it is not really agriculture. The Knepp Castle Estate, for example, is a wonderful example of rewilding, but I worked out that if we were to universalise that across much of the UK, we would need to cut our meat consumption by about 99.5%—that is not a great example of agriculture. Until you get to that level of extensification, you are really removing huge numbers of species and a huge amount of potential carbon storage that would otherwise be there.

In this country, we suffer grievously from what I call “agricultural sprawl”—large areas of land used to produce small amounts of food. It gets to the point at which, for instance, sheep farming in the uplands, according to my estimates, occupies roughly 4 million hectares—almost as much land as all our arable and horticultural production put together—yet produces roughly 1% of our food by calories and roughly 2% by protein. That is a remarkably wasteful use of land, which could be much better used for carbon storage through regeneration and rewilding, and for the great resuscitation of ecosystems and the recovery of our very put-upon wild species.