Nature has enormous potential to fight climate change and biodiversity loss in the UK – report

A report launched today by the British Ecological Society, with contributions from the University of Cambridge, offers the first complete assessment of the potential of nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change and benefit biodiversity in the UK.

Incorporating contributions from over 100 experts across academia, statutory agencies and NGOs, the comprehensive evaluation of the available evidence details the strengths, limitations and trade-offs of nature-based solutions in different UK habitats.

Professor Jane Memmott, President of the British Ecological Society, said: “The Nature-based Solutions report offers a real basis for setting effective policies and incentives that will maximise the benefits of nature-based solutions in the UK for the climate and biodiversity.”

The report finds that nature-based solutions can provide a valuable contribution to climate change mitigation and can simultaneously protect and enhance biodiversity, improve human wellbeing, bring economic benefit, and provide a wide range of ecosystem services.

Despite the huge range of benefits nature-based solutions have, the report makes clear that they should be seen as complementary to other climate and conservation actions, not as a replacement to them.

Restoration of the UK’s peatlands is a priority nature-based solution identified in the report. The UK’s 2.6 million hectares of peatland contain around 3 billion tonnes of carbon, but most are in a degraded state and are no longer actively sequestering carbon. Estimates suggest that they could be emitting the equivalent of 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, approximately half the amount released through the nation’s agricultural sector.

Restoring degraded peatlands through rewetting and revegetation can reduce and eventually halt these emissions as well as bring benefits in terms of biodiversity conservation and flood protection.

Restoring UK woodlands can also make a significant impact as a nature-based solution. Forests cover 13% of the UK and the report finds there is scope to expand this significantly to sequester more carbon, although the full benefits will not be felt before 2050. Reducing flood risk, providing shade and cooling, and biodiversity benefits from native woodland expansion are also highlighted as positive outcomes from woodlands as a nature-based solution.

Professor David Coomes at the University of Cambridge, lead author of the Woodlands chapter of the report, said: “For large-scale tree planting to be effective in capturing carbon, we will need to avoid species-rich grasslands, peat and other organic soils. Our focus should be on areas of low-quality grassland. However, this will reduce the UK’s capacity to produce meat and dairy, meaning a shift in our diets would be needed to avoid importing more of these products and offshoring our carbon footprint elsewhere.”

Marine environments that surround the UK can also offer significant nature-based solutions thanks to the large size of habitats. Saltmarshes and seagrasses are important carbon sinks, and their restoration can contribute to climate mitigation. Saltmarshes also provide coastal protection from sea-level rise and storms and provide high-biodiversity coastal habitats, especially for bird species.

Professor Rick Stafford at Bournemouth University and lead author of the Marine Chapter said: “In marine environments nature-based solutions changes are nearly always win-win. Investment in nature-based solutions that restore or protect coastal environments is an effective mechanism of achieving greater biodiversity, protection from storms and carbon capture with few trade-offs.”

The implementation of nature-based solutions to help achieve net-zero commitments and tackle biodiversity loss will require shared knowledge, resources, and effective partnerships across different policy areas.

Long-term policies, goals and government commitments will be necessary to support long-term investment, research and monitoring of the solutions.

Although some habitats are highlighted as priorities, the report emphasises that all habitats covered can deliver nature-based solutions and play a role in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises.

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