Log in | Register

Climate and nature recovery should be addressed as one, report suggests

Words: Laura Edgar
Yorkshire peatland / Shutterstock_4244086

Restoring degraded habitats would see them absorb a third of the UK’s carbon emissions, suggests a report, as a wildlife charity insists that the climate and nature crises should be tackled together as one.

The Wildlife Trusts have urged the government, industry and local authorities to “step-up” investment in nature’s recovery and climate mitigation. 

A report published by the trusts today (24 June) outlines that a wide range of land habitats – grasslands, peatlands and wetlands – should be restored to store carbon. 

It explains that the UK’s peatland soils store around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon, but as they are “heavily degraded” they release the equivalent of 23 million tonnes of CO2 every year. 

According to Let Nature Help – How Nature’s Recovery is Essential for Tackling the Climate Crisis, restoring them to prevent this emission is one of “the most cost-effective nature-based solutions”.

The government has missed its targets to help peatlands recover, as well as to plant trees. The trusts want the government to identify, map and protect a wide array of ecosystems and restore them locally as part of a national Nature Recovery Network.

The report also considers the seas and coastland. A hectare of seagrass, a habitat for young fish, could store two tonnes of CO2 a year and hold it for centuries but, “since 1985, we have lost half our seagrass meadows”. It maintains that reducing water pollution and replanting would improve the health of the seagrass meadows.

The 2020 Budget saw the government outline a £640 million Nature for Climate Fund, intended to restore peatland (35,000 hectares by 2025) and plant trees. This only 1 per cent of UK peatlands, whereas the Climate Change Committee contends that at least 50 per cent of upland peat and 25 per cent of lowland peat need restoring to get on track to net zero.

A hectare of salt marsh is capable of capturing two tonnes of carbon a year and lock it into sediments for centuries, explains the report. “We are losing nearly 100 hectares of salt marsh a year”, but coastal realignment could restore much of it, as well as reduce flooding and erosion.

The Wildlife Trusts recommends that introducing effective management for Marine Protected Areas and designating several Highly Protected Marine Areas. Such measures would bring the UK’s oceans back to health and enable them to function properly and absorb more human-made CO2 emissions.

“Nature is, itself, at risk from climate change – yet its potential to store carbon means it can help us address climate catastrophe”

Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts, says: “We cannot tackle the climate crisis without similar ambition to meet the nature crisis head-on – the two are inseparable. The climate crisis is driving nature’s decline while the loss of wildlife and habitats leaves us ill-equipped to reduce our emissions and adapt to change. It makes no sense to continue destroying natural habitats when they could help us – nature’s fantastic ability to trap carbon safely and provide other important benefits is proven.

“But nature in the UK is in a sorry state and important habitats are damaged and declining. Efforts to cut our emissions must be matched with determined action to fix our broken ecosystems so they can help stabilise our climate. Restoring nature in the UK needs to be given top priority – we’re calling on the government, industry and local authorities to step up investment urgently.”

Let Nature Help – How Nature’s Recovery is Essential for Tackling the Climate Crisis includes a number of case studies that detail how The Wildlife Trusts are leading projects to restore and connect habitats across the UK. This includes re-wetted peatlands, wet agriculture schemes and new salt marsh, as well as working with farmers and landowners on how best to care for their land so wildlife can live there.

Bennett highlights that the UK “is not on track” to cut its emissions by 80 per cent – let alone meet its 2050 net-zero target.

“It seems absurd that the government recently announced £27 billion for road building and is estimated to be spending over £100 billion on the hugely damaging HS2 rail project. They should spend this money on a green recovery instead. We are one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world; restoring nature would help to avert the climate catastrophe, create jobs, prevent flooding, stop our water being polluted, make us all healthier and allow wildlife to become abundant once more.”

Let Nature Help – How Nature’s Recovery is Essential for Tackling the Climate Crisis can be found on The Wildlife Trusts website (pdf).

Read more:

Budget 2020: Government vows to increase tree planting and establish carbon storage sites

Image credits | Shutterstock