In a new report out today [Thursday 30 September], researchers are calling on UK governments to unleash the power of nature to protect our homes and farmland from floods, droughts and heatwaves, as the UK’s famously mild climate is rapidly becoming a thing of the past due to climate change.
Last month a major UN scientific report issued a “code red for humanity” and warned of increasing heatwaves, droughts and flooding across the planet but said catastrophe can be avoided if world leaders act fast. More than 2,500 deaths were linked to heatwaves in England last year. This summer flash flooding in London submerged London Underground stations in water and forced hospitals to evacuate patients and cancel surgeries.
The report, Nature-based solutions in UK climate adaptation policy, points out the government needs to act much faster on expert advice about how nature can help us adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Nature-based solutions in UK climate adaptation policy, commissioned by the RSPB, WWF and researched by Oxford University's Nature Based Solutions Initiative, shows how the government could harness the potential of nature and make changes that would directly benefit the quality of life for UK residents, with long term savings for the taxpayer when all costs and benefits are taken into account.
The report shows there are examples all around us of nature protecting us from rising sea levels, flooding, heatwaves and other extreme weather caused by a changing climate. It also says how people’s quality of life could be safeguarded if governments recognised the true value of nature in helping fight and adapt to the very live threat of climate change.
Dr Olly Watts, RSPB Climate Change Policy Officer, said: “Climate change is here – extreme weather is already devastating our homes, our health and our precious wildlife. Yet nature is showing us what to do and how to adapt.
“As our leaders prepare to meet at COP26, we are sending a message that investing in nature restoration will not only help save some of our most iconic and well-loved species – including seahorses, otters, hedgehogs, bats, bees, butterflies, frogs and many farmland, wetland and garden birds – it will benefit people too, cooling our cities during heatwaves, filtering polluted air, protecting our homes and businesses from flooding, and our coastal communities from rising sea levels.”
Isabella O’Dowd, Head of Climate at WWF says; “Nature is our life support system and our greatest ally in tackling the climate crisis. We still have a chance to slow down climate change, restore our planet and provide a safer, healthier future for the next generation, but for this to be achieved it’s critical that the Government keep every climate promise they’ve made, including to drastically cut emissions and restore nature. Ahead of COP, we have to see ministers’ words turn to action with a solid and ambitious climate and nature plan led by public investment.”
Earlier this summer the Met Office and the Climate Change Committee warned extreme weather will only strike the UK more frequently and how we are woefully unprepared for the changes to come with roads already melting and rail network cabling buckling during record heatwaves.
Green walls and roofs are a great example of how to protect both people and wildlife, by using a mix of wildflowers and including insect-friendly features like old logs. They have blossomed in London boroughs where they have been made part of local planning policy; cooling flat-roofed buildings in summer and insulating them in winter, reducing the risk of flooding by soaking up rainwater, filtering air pollution and providing refuges for rare and threatened wildlife including bees, birds, butterflies and beetles.
The report calls on the UK governments to transform our cities and set a new expectation in national planning policy for all flat roofs in new developments to be high quality wildlife-friendly green or solar roofs and set targets to retrofit existing buildings with green roofs.
Green roofs with a thick layer of soil can cool the buildings beneath them by as much as 12oC while green walls can be up to 32oC cooler than conventional walls and save 59% of energy costs as well as providing sound insulation.
One of the most powerful benefits nature restoration can offer UK residents is its ability to protect our homes and businesses from flooding. A coastal realignment project at RSPB nature reserve Medmerry in Sussex, one of the case studies in the report, reduced annual flood risk to nearby homes from 100% to 0.1%. The report urges the government to provide far more funding and support to promote a nature-first approach to flood control such as re-meandering artificially straightened rivers, restoring peatlands and planting trees in cities and on farms.
The report also outlines an array of other examples and incredible case studies of how brilliantly nature can help us adapt to climate change.
Restoring kelp forests and seagrass meadows not only helps otters and seahorses but also reduces wave height and force, preventing coastal flooding. The humble hedgerow isn’t just a divider between fields, but a home to 65 species of birds and 20 mammal species including hedgehogs, yellowhammers and bats. Planting hedgerows across slopes at field boundaries helps to reduce flooding and soil erosion and improve water quality. Together with the right sort of tree planting, they also provide shade and shelter for livestock and habitat for pollinators and pest predators. Trees and shrubs can also help stabilise landslip-prone embankments alongside our road and rail network, as well as forming a barrier to noise and air pollution. And in the UK overseas islands, coral reefs and mangroves can help protect communities from coastal flooding and tropical storms as well as being vital nurseries for fish and other marine life.