Current uses of land in the UK "must change" to help remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, the Committee on Climate Change has said.
Their report highlights how the loss of soil fertility, biodiversity and peatland degradation is now "apparent" and "partly driven by intensive food production".
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says the Government can address these environmental concerns while ensuring sufficient food production for an increasing population and space for new homes.
The report, published on Thursday (15 November), calls for farmers to be rewarded for actions such as tree planting, restoring peatlands and improving soil and water quality.
Climate change impacts are already altering the land’s use. Average UK temperatures have risen by 0.8°C over the last forty years; with nine of the ten warmest years for the UK occurring since 2002.
Projections of future UK climate suggest further warming, sea level rise, periods of heavier rain leading to greater risks from flooding as well as reduced water availability in summer.
Despite some opportunities, the negative impacts on soils, water, vegetation and wildlife are "likely to be significant", CCC warns.
'Maximise land use'
It calls for the Government to move away from current EU practices after Brexit to a new system where land is "maximised" as a natural store for carbon and as a regulator of natural hazards such as flooding.
Alternative uses of land can be economically beneficial for farmers and land managers, the report highlights, but Government has been urged to provide help to transition.
Government assistance is needed with skills, training and information to implement new uses of land.
Support for high up-front costs and financing to aid that transition are also required. Farmers and land managers must have better access to information about the impacts of a changing climate.
The Committee also finds an important role for biomass in reducing and removing UK emissions.
Lord Deben, Chairman of CCC, said the way land is used in the UK needs "fundamental reform".
"We must ensure our use of land helps to reduce the emissions that are warming our atmosphere. We must also improve the resilience of the land to climate change," Lord Deben said.
"New legislation on agriculture and the environment provide us with a unique opportunity to reward land owners and farmers for actions such as tree planting, restoring peatlands and improving soil and water quality."
He added: “We need a new conversation about the role that biomass can play in helping to meet the UK’s climate change targets. If supply of biomass is more strictly governed, its use can be sustainable and it can play an essential role in reducing emissions, locking away carbon in plants and soils. Unsustainable supplies of biomass have no place in our future energy mix.”
The Committee on Climate Change is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008. It advises Government on emissions targets and reports to Parliament on progress made.