Moor Wood Farm: Alex Robinson on the value of nature

12 February 2024

In the first of our Zulu Green Room series, we spoke to Alex Robinson, Commercial Director of Zulu Ecosystems and Partner at Moor Wood Farm, about his journey through rural land management and the world of natural capital.

Early memories of nature 

I grew up on our family farm in the Cotswolds, spending many a day helping my father with jobs across the farm. My mother’s side of the family grew up in South Africa, and I was fortunate to spend much of my childhood in Namibia. Whether it was climbing kopjes in the Namibian bush, walking across heather moorlands in Scotland, or playing in the woods and valleys on the farm, I fell in love with the natural environment. If it's anything that involves habitat restoration or being out in the countryside, I’m sold.   

Roots in rural land management  

After leaving school, I spent a year in Kenya and Namibia helping tracking and anti-poaching teams. I then studied Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Exeter. After graduating in 2008, I joined the army and trained at Sandhurst, before going on deployments to Germany, Canada, Cyprus, and Afghanistan. 

After six years, I was keen to return to the family farm. I completed a Masters in Rural Estate Management at the Royal Agricultural University and joined Savills, becoming a Chartered Surveyor. Around this time, I became more interested and aware of the emergence of natural capital. The draft Agriculture Act Agriculture and Environment Bill had just been released post-Brexit, signalling what I believed to be the start of the biggest change in land use across the UK since World War Two.  

Developing a Natural Capital grade 

In 2019, I co-founded Nature Capital and devised the Natural Capital Grade to help articulate the performance of a landholding’s natural capital to its owners and stakeholders, so we could help them demonstrate tangible progress and good practice. 

We helped landowners identify the highest impact opportunity and quantified the amount of carbon or Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) units a project might generate – working across everything from small hilltop farms on Exmoor to large estates like Badminton and Sandringham. 

Very occasionally, you meet a team that combines the tech expertise, data capabilities, communication, project management and specialist skills to take a vision and deliver it with integrity. When I met the Zulu team, that was exactly what I found.  

The multi-disciplinary team is one of Zulu’s strongest attributes, with each person bringing a complimentary skillset to the broader mission. After working together on several projects, we decided to merge Zulu and Nature Capital, and I’ve been with Zulu ever since.  

Role at Zulu Ecosystems 

My role at Zulu is primarily focused on building relationships and developing habitat creation projects with landowners, landscape clusters, and environmental groups. I work with them to help them understand their natural capital and identify potential habitat restoration sites, while helping the Zulu team deliver projects and build upon the capabilities of our platform. 

A key part of what we do at Zulu is to assess and then deliver projects at a landscape scale. By aggregating clusters of smaller projects and enabling the integration of private finance, we can support even small-scale individual nature restoration as part of a larger whole. This maximises a project’s benefits to local biodiversity, allows us to enhance habitat connectivity, all while creating a highly investable book of carbon in the local area.  

Understanding how natural capital can affect land use and food production 

Historically, there were very few ways to make money from land that weren’t tied to timber or food production. I was always taken by examples in Namibia and South Africa, where more naturalised habitats and wildlife have a clear value and generate revenue, typically from sources like ecotourism or hunting. Without having to rely on intensive farming, the impact on the land is much lower.  

Unless the landowner and local community can see demonstrable value from a habitat, it will often go overlooked and unappreciated. I believe that nature and the benefits it provides must have a value. If it doesn’t, it all too easily gets ignored then taken for granted. 

Unless the landowner and local community can see demonstrable value from a habitat, it will often go overlooked and unappreciated.

Alex Robinson

For instance, healthy soils act as blotting papers. When they’re in good condition and bound with vegetation, they soak up water, slow down the hydrological flow, and provide natural filtration, improving the water quality while mitigating local flooding risk.  

If those soils degrade, they lose the ability to hold the water back. Nothing is more pronounced than the conversion of woodland to bare arable ground, be it now or historically. Hence now, we must rely on expensive artificial filtration facilities or concrete flood barriers. If we recognised the true value that nature-based solutions provides, a balanced ecosystem could do so much more of this for us. 

It’s a similar issue with rising temperatures. If you step into a woodland with a closed canopy, even on the hottest day, the ground temperatures will be cooler. 

During the sweltering summer of 2022, I ran an experiment on the farm where I pointed an infrared thermometer at different land covers at the hottest point in the day. A recently harvested field of wheat was over 50°C at surface soil temperature, the same as a patch of tarmac, but at the base of a large oak in the woodland and at the bottom of a thick hedgerow, both were significantly cooler (20°C). 

In these conditions, much of our biodiversity will come under significant stress. We need hedgerows, beetle banks, grass margins, and ultimately more woodlands, wetlands, and wildflowers to sustain life.  

Balancing the needs of nature with food production 

The UK population is set to hit 70 million in the next two years, and so any land use decision must be made knowing that there is a serious demand for space and with consideration to food production. 

As farmers, whilst we can’t yet control all of our inputs, we can lower our exposure to risk. Farming innovations and a circular use of resources, such as those common in vertical farming units, have already demonstrated their efficacy. 

The Dutch have been leading the world for years in these sorts of agricultural practices. Grow Up Farm in Kent suggest that their 10-acre plot can produce an estimated equivalent of 1,000 acres of Grade 1 farmland. They harvest their rainwater, have a solar array on the roof, and also utilise heat as a byproduct from the neighbouring bioenergy plant.   

Nature restoration on Moor Wood Farm 

Moor Wood Farm has undergone quite significant changes over the last four years, going from a reasonably conventional arable farm, to one that now has more grassland than at any other time since the Second World War.  

In a drive to restore and improve the health of the soils, whilst boosting biodiversity, I put the whole farm into a Countryside Stewardship Scheme. We are now in the middle of planning the next turn of the handle – looking to secure funding to create permanent land use changes. Some of these include the creation of 70 hectares of new habitats like broadleaf woodland and species rich calcareous grassland.   

I've been working with Zulu to plan the woodland creation project, with an aim to connect and buffer out our existing woodlands, as well move through the planning and grant application process as efficiently as possible. The Zulu team are also working with long-term buyers and investors who are interested in similar nature restoration projects. Once these project sponsors are established, it will add long-term carbon revenue to the farm’s balance sheet. 

It will undoubtedly take over a decade to restore a good proportion of the health back into the soils on the farm, and return the land to a place where we can grow crops more sustainably with livestock fully integrated back into the rotation. 

Restoring species rich calcareous grassland, on a previously arable field on Moor Wood Farm.

Creating a wilder, more biodiverse future for the next generation 

The markets of carbon, biodiversity, and nature restoration are still emerging. Even if it feels like some people are ahead, the reality is that it is all new and it's never too late to start. The most important thing is to build knowledge now. Before you put plans into action, establish a broad natural capital baseline so that you can demonstrate change and tangible progress going forward.

Here in the South of England, I struggle to see a time when bison or wolves will roam the land. Yet, there are still hotspots where the wildlife is rich and plentiful. 

Lately, I’ve been inspired by visits to places like Elmley Nature Reserve in Kent, which is heaving with wildfowl, lapwing, curlew and marsh harriers, as well as my neighbour, Calmsden Farm, who have fantastic populations of grey partridge, skylark and hare. There are so many brilliant examples to explore and learn from, and with every positive intervention we make, we can restore biodiversity at a faster pace.  

Faunal species that have lost their habitats will always come back to their ancestral homes if given half a chance, but they need us to set the conditions for them. 

Restoring habitats is just the beginning. The careful management of the land will always be critical on our small island. 

Contact us 

For more information on Zulu Ecosystems’ approach to landscape regeneration and how to discover the potential of your natural capital, please contact 

If you’d like to join our growing team, please visit our open roles here. 

Written by
Alex Robinson
Partner at Moor Wood Farm, Commercial Director at Zulu Ecosystems
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