A new report launched last week by the British Ecological Society highlights how nature can be a powerful source in responding to the crises of both biodiversity loss and climate change.
The report offers a complete assessment of the potential of nature-based solutions (NbS) to mitigate climate change and help biodiversity in the UK.
Gathering contributions from over 100 experts, the evaluation of the evidence analyses the strengths, limitations, and trade-offs of NbS in a variety of habitats across the UK.
Despite the huge range of benefits NbS have, the report makes it clear that they should be seen only as complementary to other climate and conservation actions, not as a replacement to them.
An important NbS identified in the report is the restoration of peatlands. The UK currently has 2.6 million hectares of peatland, containing around 3 billion tonnes of carbon. Many are in a degraded state and are no longer actively sequestering carbon.
It is estimated that they could be emitting 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually – this is around half the amount released by the agricultural sector.
By rewetting and revegetating degraded peatland we could stop emissions, create biodiversity benefits for wildlife and help with flood prevention.
Dr Christian Dunn, lead author of the Peatlands Chapter, said: “If we’re serious about carbon in UK we have to look after our peatlands first. We have to stop draining them immediately, and then begin restoring and managing them effectively.”
Another NbS that could have a significant impact is the restoration of UK woodlands. Currently, forest covers 13% of UK land. The report finds that there is opportunity to expand this to sequester more carbon, and benefits from this action would be reduced flood risk, more shade and cooling, and biodiversity support. However, these benefits would not be felt until 2050.
Grasslands are the most extensive habitat type in the UK, covering 40% of land. However, only 2% is considered to be biodiverse and carbon rich. By protecting and restoring semi natural grassland, multiple benefits for biodiversity and carbon sequestration can be implemented.
The report further outlines that afforestation should be done on low-quality grasslands, and woodlands should be allowed to naturally regenerate. In agricultural landscapes, planting native woods and hedgerows could help reconnect habitat and fragments of ancient woodland.
The UK government has committed to planting more than 30,000 hectares of woodland each year by 2025 and the report highlights how important it is that the right trees are planted in the right place.
The implementation of NbS 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 NbS.
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.