Kick-start nature’s recovery and absorb a third of UK emissions

New report from The Wildlife Trusts shows how investing in nature would reap big dividends in tackling climate crisis
Image of Foulshaw Moss peatland © Ian Alexander Waite

Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve. Healthy peatlands like this are the UK’s largest carbon store  © Ian Alexander Waite

We've been using our conservation expertise to help farmers create wetlands teeming with wildlife for eight years now, and are delighted that government has recognised our project as a cost-effective way to fund climate change mitigation.
Simon Thomas
Peatland Restoration Officer, Cumbria Wildlife Trust

The Wildlife Trusts have published a report ‘Let nature help – how nature’s recovery is essential for tackling the climate crisis’. Drawing on the latest research, the report shows how a variety of natural landscapes in the UK can store carbon and could absorb a third of UK emissions if these degraded habitats were to be expertly restored. It makes the case for addressing the climate and nature emergencies together, head on.

We are calling on the Government, industry and local authorities to step-up investment in nature’s recovery and climate change mitigation by:

  • Restoring a wide range of land habitats such as grasslands, peatlands and wetlands to store carbon.  Government have missed targets to plant trees and help peatlands recover and now must identify, map and protect a wide array of ecosystems and restore them locally as part of a national Nature Recovery Network.
  • Restoring nature at sea by introducing effective management for our network of Marine Protected Areas and by designating a suite of Highly Protected Marine Areas. These measures would bring our oceans back to health and enable them to function properly and absorb more human-made CO2 emissions.

We know from experience that restoring nature can help soak up UK emissions whilst also contributing many additional benefits. For example, better natural habitats reduce the risk of flooding, help prevent coastal erosion, improve people’s health and ensure thriving ecosystems which provide the pollinators, soils, food and water which sustain us. 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.”

In the March 2020 budget, the Government announced a £640m Nature for Climate fund to restore peatland and plant trees. The plan is to restore 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025 – only around 1% of UK peatlands. The Climate Change Committee suggests we need to restore at least 50% of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat to get on track to net zero.

We believe that improving nature’s ability to store carbon cannot be at the expense of reducing emissions in other ways – but it is part of the solution. People can consider making sustainable lifestyle choices and Government policy needs to ensure that we significantly reduce emissions in every part of our lives – from leisure and food production to manufacturing and transport.