WWF 2022 report: the urgent need return UK land back to nature

Added on
17 Mar 2022
WWF 2022 report: the urgent need return UK land back to nature


The long-awaited World Wildlife Fund (WWF) UK report – The Land of Plenty – was released in February this year with the aim of identifying critical government policies urgently needed to safeguard and improve the UK landscape in order to achieve the ambitious net carbon zero targets already set.

As well as producing a report with UK-wide policy recommendations, the WWF identified the variability on land use across the different UK regions and supplemented the main report with three regional specific reports for Scotland, England and Wales.

Why focus on land?

UK is unfortunately the most nature depleted country globally

In addition to this, the foods we import also have a significant impact on land use across the globe.

Over 70% of land globally is used for agriculture – this is land that should be acting as a carbon sink but instead has become a carbon emitter.  Agriculture alone is responsible for 16% of all manmade greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Our entire food system from agriculture and fishing to distribution and consumption and waste is responsible for at least 29% of all global manmade GHG emissions and is the main cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss and pollution of our rivers and oceans.

We need to consider the global and not just the domestic environmental footprint of our food choices

A key point of difference between the WWF report and current government policies, is that it takes into consideration the UK’s international environmental footprint i.e., the footprint and land use of the foods we import, which are currently excluded from government targets and audits.

In particular, UK’s high livestock land use brings about a high demand for animal feed – soya – which is not only predominantly sourced from deforested Amazon forest but requires artificial fertilizer use.

Due to global agriculture practices, the deforestation of much of the Amazon has transitioned it from one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks to now being a carbon emitter. 

Additionally, there is a disproportional high yield demand for soya grown for animal feed compared to direct human consumption.  On average, 6kg of plant protein is needed to produce just 1kg of meat for human consumption.2,3 This results in a high environmental burden due to the high artificial fertilizer use and the vast area of land needed which exacerbates GHG emissions and pollution of soil and water ways. 

It is important to note that the majority of soya grown in the Amazon is used for animal feed and ​not for human consumption. Soya from the Amazon is especially used for pigs and poultry fodder. In fact, over 90% of soya production for human consumption in Europe comes from North America, Europe or Asia.4,5  Also important to consider is the earlier point with regard to the disproportionally high yield demand for soya grown for animal feed versus for direct human consumption, which would require a much lower volume with a consequent lower environmental burden; less land use, reduced need for artificial fertilizers, fewer GHG emissions, reduced damage to our water ways etc .  And finally, the nitrogen fixing properties of soya, like many other legumes, can also help further mitigate the environmental burden as they can reduce the excessive need for artficial fertilizer use. 

Our farming communities must be better supported

The WWF report identifies that the farming community is at the heart of matter, and it is critical that they are better supported and given a fairer share of and voice in the market.

The government could support the farming community through regulation, financial support and strong trade standards to ensure the transition to more sustainable farming practices without placing UK farmers at risk of losing out to cheaper and less environmentally produced imports.

WWF sets ambitious targets for the government

The ultimate aim of the WWF recommendations: to produce a land use system that is good for nature, drives carbon sink and is good for future generations.

WWF sets out ambitious targets for 2050 including:

  • 75% reduction in the UK’s global GHG emissions
  • Half nitrogen (fertilizer) waste and reduce methane emissions by 30%
  • Return land back to nature
  • Reduce waste across the entire food system by 70%

The WWF recommended government policies

As well as setting out clear target policies for the government to achieve by 2030 and 2050 the WWF report also provides the practices that would enable the government to achieve this.

Some of the policies and recommendations in the report:

  • Legally binding strategies that are fairly enforced and support UK farmers to transition to more sustainable farming practices and reduce our global environmental impact e.g. 
    • Payment schemes, incentives and financial support
    • Fairer farmgate prices
    • Buying and procurement standards which favour better quality produce with lower environmental footprint
  • Improve farming practices
    • Focus on regenerative agriculture
    • Better manage fertilizer use
    • Stop monoculture
    • Crop fixing and rotation
    • Reduced and more precise use of fertilizers
    • Improved livestock management including better management of manure management and nitrogen (fertilizer) run offs
  • Reduce imports of soya for animal feed to reduce our burden on global GHG emissions, deforestation, help restore some carbon sink and reduce use of fertilizers. This does not relate to soya for human consumption, as mentioned earlier, over 90% of soya production for human consumption in Europe comes from North America, Europe or Asia and not the Amazon, soya for human consumption demands lower yields, less land and artifiical fertilizer use and has a signficantly lower carbon footprint.
  • Shift the nations dietary habits to more plant-based foods especially plant proteins. The WWF calls out for a new national reference diet in order to meet their much tougher recommendations for meat and dairy reductions compared to the 6th Climate Change Committee recommendations to government.
    • The WWF recommends at least a 50% meat and dairy reduction by 2050
    • And reduce high soya-fed pigs and poultry
  • Retailers, caterers and food providers to focus on seasonal local produce as well as purchasing higher quality produce with the lowest environmental footprint at a fair price for farmers
  • Reduce waste across the entire food supply chain by 70% - this is major contributor to carbon emissions, land use and deforestation, fertilizer pollution and biodiversity loss
  • Give land back to nature and drive carbon sink
    • The report encourages afforestation (planting of new trees), restoration of peatlands, saltmarshes, seagrasses and seaweeds as well as agroforestry where shrubs and trees are grown within farming systems

Although a lengthy report – it is clearly laid out with multiple easy to grasp charts and diagrams

A must read for anyone interested in a sustainable and fairer food system


  1. Taylor A – WWF-UK. Land of plenty:  A nature-positive pathway to decarbonise UK agriculture and land use. WWF Feb 2022. Accessed Feb 2022. https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/land-of-plenty#download-the-reports-here
  2. Smil, V. (2000). Feeding the world: A challenge for the twenty-first century. ISBN 0-262-19432-5. Cambridge (MA), USA: MIT Press.
  3. Smil, V. (2001). Enriching the earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the transformation of world food production. ISBN 0-262-19449-X. Cambridge (MA), USA: MIT Press.
  4. Rajão R, Soares-Filho B, Nunes F, et al. The rotten apples of Brazil's agribusiness. Science. 2020;369(6501):246-248. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6501/246
  5. WWF. Appetite for destruction.  WWF 2017. https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-11/WWF_AppetiteForDestruction_Full_Report_Web_0.pdf