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Volume 687: debated on Thursday 21 January 2021

What steps the Church of England is taking to promote regenerative agriculture on its landholdings. (911089)

What steps the Church of England is taking to assess the efficacy on its land of zero-till conservation agriculture in promoting increased soil health, reduced use of carbon, biodiversity gain and carbon sequestration. (911092)

The Church Commissioners are undertaking a natural capital assessment to provide a baseline for our carbon outputs and to understand our ecosystem services. This will provide a plan to lower carbon outputs and inform our natural capital strategy. Where possible, our tenancies have clauses relating to good husbandry and the non-removal of topsoil, and with longer-term tenancies, soil analyses are carried out at the beginning and the end of leases to ensure that soil health is maintained to a good standard.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. The Church Commissioners own an estate of about 105,000 acres. What is the Church doing to help its tenant farmers to achieve sustainable farming, especially in the light of the current pressure that farmers face during coronavirus?

I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in this important area. Over 60% of our agricultural land is let on secure agricultural tenancies and the remainder on more modern sorts of farm business tenancies. When new tenancies are granted, we encourage sustainable farming practices through our tenancy precedents. We will be reviewing this further in the light of our natural capital assessment results. We want to help our tenants to achieve both sustainable and profitable outcomes.

The Church Commissioners’ ownership of a large amount of land—over 100,000 acres—gives us an opportunity to lead development of conservation agricultural farming techniques, improving soil health, reducing carbon inputs, and developing the evidence base on carbon sequestration. Does my hon. Friend agree that practitioners should approach management of their farming assets in the same way as they do with their other ethical investments?

As a leading global ethical investor, we regularly engage with all the businesses in which we are invested to improve best practice. While farming practices and management decisions are mainly taken by our agricultural tenants, we have some who do practice zero tillage, and we strongly encourage sustainable farming practices when new tenancies are granted.