More government funding is urgently needed to help Fenland farmers tackle climate change in one of the nation's most fertile landscapes, says an industry report.

The East Anglian Fens is known as the "breadbasket of Britain". It produces about a third of England’s fresh vegetables and is worth an estimated £3.1bn to the East’s economy.

But while its peat soils can store and sequester large quantities of carbon, they can also be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions if not correctly managed.  

Farmers in the region formed Fenland SOIL in 2021 to explore how agricultural methods could be adapted to reduce carbon emissions while maintaining the area's crucial role in feeding the nation. 

The organisation commissioned Andersons Eastern to produce an independent report, which highlights that the main mitigation opportunities involve making the peat wetter - but warns that "rewetting" options are practically difficult and expensive to achieve.

The report says increasing the degree of rewetting reduces the farming output, thereby requiring greater compensation - on top of the capital investments needed to secure the necessary water.

It recommends major reform to drainage authorities as well as increased government investment in capital funding, support grants and incentives.

Dr Tina Barsby, chief executive of Fenland SOIL said: “It is evident that current agri-environment scheme incentives are too limited in their scope.   

“Recent indications from Defra lowland peat workshops suggest that Defra thinking is not moving at sufficient pace to encompass the scale of change and opportunities envisaged in the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force report and examined in the case studies in this new independent report. 

“It is hoped that policymakers will take heart from the farmer-led initiative shown by Fenland SOIL in leading the development of a framework and pathway for farmers to consider change, and support that change through providing the necessary scale of investment required. "

Rob Wise, the National Farmers' Union's regional environment adviser for the East of England, who has worked closely with Fenland SOIL on the project.

He said: “Defra have made a good initial start on developing the funding structures needed but they need to adopt the pathway of completing the mapping, funding feasibility studies and then pitching the capital and revenue grants at the right level to get farmer and Internal Drainage Board buy-in to deliver meaningful projects on the ground.”