uk peatland

Natural habitats could absorb a third of the UK’s carbon emissions

Image credit: Dreamstime

The UK’s natural landscapes should be used as a carbon sink to help the country meet its climate change commitments, a report from the Wildlife Trusts charity has said.

The Wildlife Trusts said the Government should work to restore a wide range of land habitats such as grasslands, peatlands and wetlands, accusing it of missing its tree-planting targets.

The government has pledged to plant 30 million trees per year between 2020 and 2025 and set aside £640m in the March budget earlier this year for the Nature for Climate Fund.

Up to a third of UK emissions could be absorbed through habitat restoration, the charity claims. It also said that other benefits could be gleaned from better management of natural habitats, such as a reduced risk of flooding, preventing coastal erosion and improving people’s health.

The government is aiming for “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases - mostly from fossil fuels - by 2050, but a progress report last year by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) advisory body said policy actions fell “well short”.

Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts said: “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.

“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.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to significant reductions in carbon output globally due to the impact of reduced travel, less electricity use and the shuttering of industries alongside other factors.

Yesterday, researchers said the carbon savings achieved will easily be lost due to the economic impact on clean energy infrastructure unless significant action is taken.

The Wildlife Trusts said that UK peatlands store around 3.2bn tonnes of CO2 but are heavily degraded, while Britain’s coastal seagrass meadows, another important carbon store and a habitat for young fish, have halved since 1985. Saltmarsh and inland wetlands have also suffered large declines.

The Trusts pointed to nature restoration projects, such as the re-wetting of 3,700 hectares of fenland in Cambridgeshire that will lock up an estimated 325,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. It has also been instrumental in coastal realignment on the Essex coast and beaver reintroduction in Scotland.

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