Restoring nature-rich habitats helps offset UK carbon emissions

Ness Amaral-Rogers

Monday 8 June 2020

RSPB Forsinard Flows; view from visitor trail, including snow-capped Ben Griam, Highland, Scotland.

  • The RSPB has identified how much carbon is being stored in areas important for wildlife
  • Much of these areas is in poor condition and unprotected, however restoration could lead not only to reduced emissions but actually to higher levels of sequestration
  • Restoring these areas to good condition could counterbalance nearly a third of the UKs agricultural emissions every year

Restoring the UK’s important habitats for nature could help lock away 14 million tonnes of CO2e per year, nearly a third our annual agricultural emissions, according to a new study led by RSPB scientists.

The UK has recently committed to ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 under the 2008 Climate Change Act. In order to reach this target, all sectors must commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as removing gases from the atmosphere.

In a paper published today in the journal Biological Conservation, experts calculated the contribution made to achieving this net zero target by analysing how much carbon was already stored in areas important for conservation, and how much more could be sequestered each year if some of those areas were restored.

Dr Rob Field, lead author of the paper said: "Currently our nature-rich lands are already doing an excellent job; they hold a massive store of around 0.5 Gigatonnes of carbon, around 30% of our land-based store on just 20% of its area, as well as capturing an additional 8.7 million tonnes CO2e every year.

“However, this store and processes are at risk because many of these important habitats are in poor condition, and two thirds lack any form of protection.”

The scientists focused on two priority habitats - peatland and heath - to give a conservative figure of what could be achieved if they were restored to a good condition. Peatlands are one of the UK’s most valuable habitats as they play a vital role in supporting unique plants and rare wildlife. However, much is currently degraded by drainage, erosion and inappropriate management, meaning that they are releasing carbon at an alarming rate – losing around 3 million tonnes CO2e a year.

Restoring both important habitats to a good condition will not only be beneficial for nature but will also increase priority habitat sequestration to around 14.6 million tonnes CO2e a year, equivalent to nearly 32% of the annual emissions from agriculture (45.6 million tonnes CO2e per year).

Dr Field continued: "This is likely to be a conservative estimate, and if we were to consider the other nature -rich habitats, the figure is likely to be higher. This study shows the importance of looking after our natural places for nature and society, especially as we consider where funding should be allocated to achieve a low carbon future.”

Tagged with: Topic: Conservation Topic: The RSPB's positions