Natural Capital on a Highland Estate
The JAHAMA Highland Estate is a mixed highland estate which serves the Fort William Aluminium Smelter’s huge appetite for water to generate electricity for the arc furnaces there. Water is piped from the Spey Dam and Lochs Laggan and Treig via a 14 mile pipe built in the 1920s and 1940s to drive the generators which produce the electricity. Ben Nevis is at the centre of the estate although other than the north face this is owned separately by the John Muir Trust. Nevertheless, all paths to Ben Nevis lead through the estate. Recreation in the form of walking, climbing, biking and kayaking are all popular activities on the estate and the land is well used for these purposes.
There are also extensive woodlands and peatlands. Deteriorating peatland has begun to be restored in recent years as part of a continuing programme. Two long distance footpaths traverse the estate as well, and there are 19 bothies on the estate. Deer management is an important activity on the estate, with a venison shop being opened in the last year to provide a local outlet for this nutritious meat at accessible prices. The smelter and the estate play an important role in the local economy as employers and providers of accommodation, business facilities and outdoor recreation. The estate combines a rich industrial heritage with extensive natural assets.
The aluminium smelter at Fort William is part of the wider GFG Alliance of Companies, with interests in steel, aluminium and other industries. The company is committed to reducing the global warming contributions of these high-carbon industrial processes via its CN30 objective. One example of this is proposed diversification of the Fort William smelter towards recycling aluminium, in addition to refining raw bauxite into aluminium. Although the smelter is one of the most sustainable in the world, being powered by renewable energy, its carbon emissions are still significant – over 60,000 tonnes a year in the last Emissions Report.
The company was therefore keen to assess the carbon sequestration contribution from its extensive rural landholding. Three projects are underway. First, a strategic assessment of the estate’s capacity for carbon sequestration. Second, a carbon footprint of estate management activities, and finally, an evaluation of the broader natural capital assets on the estate. The first of these projects has now been completed. The estate has the potential to sequester more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon a year; however, this figure comes down to approximately 62,000 tonnes when emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from peatland are included in the calculation.
Although in theory this may balance the emissions from the smelter, it is currently a statement of ‘business as usual’. In any case, land management activities are not yet recognised under current regulatory schemes as a legitimate means of offsetting industrial emissions of this nature. The importance of the estate’s natural capital investigation work lies in establishing a base line for future management of the estate, and in revealing for the wider sector the difficulties faced in undertaking practical carbon assessments.
Work on the second and third projects will be coming to a conclusion soon.
The carbon assessment has been successful in drawing on published information about rates of carbon sequestration and its critical application to the rural resources of the estate. It has also helped us to understand the limitations of these data in practical application.
The wide range of published data illustrates one of the main challenges encountered in this work. For example, the quoted range for grassland goes from net emissions to sequestration rates of 8 tonnes/ha or more per annum. The range for woodland runs from 5 to 20 tonnes per ha pa. In each case we have adopted conservative figures from these ranges.
Our work has also highlighted the incomplete nature of our understanding of peatland and grassland carbon sequestration. Grassland rates of sequestration must be considered in the light of emissions from grazing livestock, and this appears to be an area which is very poorly understood indeed. Cattle in particular have been considered in most published research separately and distinct from the grassland on which they graze but there is some suggestion that there may be optimal grazing regimes in which grassland sequestration and carbon storage more than offsets the emissions from the grazing livestock. Manure, in turn, is a valuable source of fertiliser for arable land which can, in a well-managed regenerative system, take much of the place of artificial organic fertilisers for the production of arable and vegetable crops. Further, when considering the three pillars of sustainable development – environment, communities, and economy – it is clear that the role of livestock production in Highland culture is significant, and that environmental issues cannot be considered in isolation.
The next steps are to complete the natural capital evaluation and carbon footprint exercise. We then hope to refine the assumptions and data on which these assessments have been undertaken, with better gathering of visitor information; for example, the identification of key future indicators and the development of systems to monitor them. This should ensure that we can manage the estate with a view to positive improvements in all these indicators while also developing its contribution to the economic and social fabric of this area of Scotland. Natural capital is an essential tool with which to inform the competent management of the estate.
This article has been written by Julia Stoddart and Charles Cowap. Julia is the Chief Operating Officer of JAHAMA Highland Estates and Charles Cowap has been advising the estate on its
natural capital and carbon assets.
More details about the work described here and the estate in general can be found on the estate’s website: https://www.jahamahighlandestates.com/natural-capital