Last October over 90 Hebden Bridge residents signed a letter which the campaign group Ban the Burn sent as the residents’ submission to Natural England’s Uplands Evidence Review (UER).
The residents’ letter urged Natural England to ban burning and draining on Walshaw Moor Estate blanket bog, in order to allow degraded blanket bog to recover. Active blanket bog slows run off from the tops, and so has an significant role to play in reducing flooding in Hebden Bridge.
Natural England have emailed an update on the Uplands Evidence Review, which is due to report to the public around Easter. They say that following publication of the Evidence Review, they are planning to review how the Evidence they have collected sits with Natural England’s current advice on uplands management. Natural England emailed that,
During this exercise there will be an opportunity for stakeholders to alert us to any specific concerns regarding your current knowledge of Natural England’s guidance. Once we understand the scale of the review work, we will be involving stakeholders in the development of new guidance and seeking views on how best any changes to advice may be expressed.
This is the chance for Ban the Burn, Hebden Bridge residents, Calderdale Councillors and other members of the Upper Calder Valley Joint Flood Group to let Natural England know about “specific concerns” with Natural England’s Uplands guidance.
The UER has been collecting evidence on biodiversity and ecosystem services in the uplands, and the impact of land management activities upon them. It covers five main topics, each of them contentious:
- Impacts of tracks and vehicle use on soil structure and hydrology and their impacts on biodiversity.
- Impacts of managed burning on peat land biodiversity and ecosystem services.
- Appropriate management regimes for sustaining biodiversity in upland hay meadows.
- Determination of environmentally sustainable stocking regimes on moorland.
- Feasibility of restoring degraded blanket bog including areas such as drainage, vegetation cover (peat forming species), and climate change.
Natural England (NE) set up five review topic groups. Each consists of an NE chair and two or three independent academic experts. In the methodology for the UER, Natural England committed to sharing the draft findings of these topic groups with stakeholders. Since Hebden Bridge residents, via Ban the Burn, has submitted evidence to the UER, Ban the Burn will shortly receive these draft findings and be able to comment on them.
An “overall assurance group” will then bring together the five topic group reports into a single report. The overall assurance group has an independent chair (Professor Colin Galbraith, Chief Scientist, Scottish Natural Heritage) and its membership includes Natural England’s Chief Scientist, Dr Tim Hill.
Payments for ecosystem services
The idea of putting a price on biodiversity and so-called ecosystem services is that this will bring them within the marketplace, that well known arena for the efficient allocation of resources. Ecosystem services are the benefits that arise from natural processes, such as pollination by bees, or people walking in clean air, or so-called ‘watershed services’. Of course, it would be possible to regulate to protect these natural processes, but with a ConDem government hell-bent on shrinking the state and privatising everything, that’s not on the cards.
One idea is to introduce payments for ecosystem services, so that those who own the natural resources that produce those services will be paid to keep them in good nick. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) is an example of a PES scheme, and it is surrounded by considerable notoriety due to the number of scams it’s given rise to.
I have no idea how Payments for Ecosystems Services work. Who would pay for them? An academic research project called Market-Based Mechanisms for Protection of Water Resources says the water PES they are studying is about
“incentivising landowners to set aside targeted areas of land with most beneficial effect for water protection. Payments for Ecosystems Services (PES) involve a voluntary transaction in which an environmental service (often a land use providing this service) is paid for by one or more buyer(s). In short the beneficiaries of environmental services pay for their provision and the providers of those services get paid to provide them.”
Trading ecosystem services through financial products
Critics of moves to create a market to trade ecosystem services observe that it’s the mad kind of solution that Einstein pointed out never worked: just keep on doing the same thing that didn’t work in the first place.
The financialisation of natural processes aims to solve the problem that the operations of an unregulated or poorly regulated market lead to environmental damage, because businesses are allowed to get away with it and they don’t have to pay for the damage they cause. Neoliberals see this as a fault of the market – businesses are able to “externalise” the costs of the damage they cause – in other words, to avoid paying for them.
So if the market is at fault, the solution is clearly to extend the operations of the market. According to neo-liberal logic. That means putting a price on things like the work of bees, or people’s enjoyment of clean air. Then create financial instruments or products that people will be able to buy or sell. Kind of like the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which puts a price on a ton of carbon dioxide and then lets businesses trade these carbon emissions. Which has been a dire failure, but has allowed some businesses to make lots of money. So ecosystem services are more of the same – the market hasn’t worked, so let’s have more market.
Those who are less enamoured of the financial sector observe that this amounts to a massive new Enclosure movement. Just as capitalists enclosed common land in the 18th century, now they are enclosing and appropriating every imaginable type of natural process.
The United Nations Environment Programme’s Finance Initiative has published reports about how
“the world is waking up to a 21st century type of banking, whereby environmental challenges – including loss of biodiversity and ecosystem degradation – can be further hardwired into finance.”
In Ecosystem Services Markets as a Neoliberal Response to Crisis, a paper published in Food Ethics, a quarterly magazine published by the Food Ethics Council, devoted to “Banking biodiversity: Valuing or devaluing nature?”, Vol. 6, Issue 2, Summer 2011, Larry Lohman writes,
“Environmental services markets are not aimed merely at ‘solving environmental problems at the lowest cost’. More importantly, they redefine those problems in a way that creates new assets, economic sectors and property rights. As part of the neoliberal response to the economic crisis that set in during the 1970s, they function to loosen regulatory constraints on business, relax Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements, and open up new profit opportunities for an increasingly dominant financial sector.”
Hebden Bridge residents may have quite a few things to say about the Uplands Evidence Review’s findings on creating an upland biodiversity and ecosystems services market.