Setting the Global Standard: RSPB sites harnessing nature to help protect communities from climate change

Tuesday 9 November 2021

  • Two RSPB reserves are named among just five locations in the UK that meet the IUCN’s Global Standard for nature-based solutions during the UN’s Climate COP meeting in Glasgow
  • The protection of a temperate rainforest, peat bogs, rivers and woodland at RSPB Haweswater in the Lake District is restoring the landscape for spectacular wildlife and helping to protect local communities and farmland from flooding whilst also locking up carbon
  • RSPB Medmerry is a £28 million project that is helping to protect two towns in West Sussex from coastal flooding and providing much needed intertidal wild spaces that are helping the wildlife of the area recover from lost wetland elsewhere along the Solent

This week, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has officially recognised the effectiveness and benefits of nature-based solutions being deployed at the RSPB’s Haweswater and Medmerry reserves. Only projects that are making a significant contribution to tackling climate change by unlocking the power of our natural world for the benefit of wildlife and people are able to meet the high bar set by the IUCN’s Global Standard.

The Global Standard for nature-based solutions is an international assessment process for governments, businesses, investors, communities and NGOs to recognise the most impactful projects that unlock the power of nature to help mitigate climate change and help wildlife and local communities adapt to its impacts, whilst providing wider societal benefits.

The RSPB’s work at Haweswater in the Lake District and Medmerry in West Sussex are among just five UK sites so far to receive this recognition as the UK’s climate credentials, and nature-based solutions to climate change, are set to be in the spotlight when world leaders meet in Glasgow for the UN’s climate COP.

RSPB Haweswater
Jointly managed by the RSPB and United Utilities, Haweswater is a unique haven for wildlife and visitors offering everything from hay meadows, Alpine conditions and a temperate rainforest. The site is home to peregrine falcons up in the rocky crags, red squirrels and pied flycatchers among the woodland, along with amphibians and snipe found in the peatland. The protection and restoration of the site has seen Atlantic salmon returning to spawn in the restored section of the Swindale Beck.

This amazing landscape is also serving another purpose. The RSPB is working with neighbouring landowners to revive the area and restore peatland, which means the area will continue to lock up vital carbon stores in its trees and soil as well as provide homes for many rare and endangered species.

Rivers and other watercourses have been restored to their original ‘rewiggled’ routes, helping reduce the risk of flooding for local communities and farmland, as well as improving water quality to a point where Atlantic salmon are beginning to recolonise the river. Man-made ‘grips’ that were drying the peat bogs, resulting in loss of vital habitat and release of greenhouse gases, have been blocked. And, a tree nursery has been established so locally sourced saplings can support the planting of over 100,000 trees to hold the land together and protect it from heavy rainfall which can lead to flooding and soil erosion.

RSPB Medmerry
Completed in 2013, the RSPB was the key partner in this Environment Agency-led scheme, and the resulting RSPB Medmerry nature reserve became the largest realignment of open coast ever undertaken in Europe. The £28 million project was designed to help protect local communities from flooding and create vital new intertidal areas for wildlife, replacing habitat that had been lost elsewhere along the Solent.

Today Medmerry is a wildlife haven with nesting sites among the pools and a growing number of birds such as avocets, black headed gulls, little ringed plovers and oystercatchers.

However this is a success story from adversity. In 2008 the area experienced coastal flooding that threatened hundreds of houses in the nearby town of Selsey. Over £5 million of damage was caused when the old flood defences, a 3km shingle bank, was breached. The creation of RSPB Medmerry has provided an effective defence for these coastal communities, as well as vital homes for wildlife. And there has been an economic benefit to the area with tourism, the development of new natural fish nurseries all emerging in the new wetland.

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB said: “Nature-based solutions are essential to our efforts to tackle the nature and climate emergency and unlock the power of our natural world to both provide homes for the threatened wildlife we love but also tackle the climate crisis. At Haweswater we are working with other land owners to lock up carbon and protect the area’s amazing wildlife. At Medmerry, we are working to adapt to climate change, protecting people and wildlife from the growing problems of coastal erosion and the threat of homes and habitat being washed out to sea.

“Both of these projects are only possible thanks to working in partnership with others at scale, and both show that with investment there is hope that we can halt and reverse the decline of our wildlife while addressing climate change. With world leaders arriving in the UK for the climate COP in Glasgow I am proud that our work at these two locations is being put into the spotlight by the IUCN. Nature-based solutions are an area where the UK can demonstrate global leadership with projects such as Medmerry and Haweswater, showing how action on the ground is delivering benefits for people and wildlife to revive our world. We need to see their crucial role embraced by world leaders in the final COP agreement, and then delivered at scale and with urgency”

The RSPB is attending the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow to ensure nature is not forgotten as world leaders and negotiators meet to discuss the international response to the climate emergency. And through #MyClimateAction the charity is helping people to show they care, can make a difference and have their voice heard as part of these global gatherings.

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