Press Release

Co-op and the RSPB join forces to preserve nature’s carbon ‘stores’

Co-op and the RSPB have joined forces in a UK supermarket first to protect some of nature’s carbon ‘stores’ through ambitious restoration and long-term management of UK peatland.

Posted 5 min read

Announcing the three-year partnership, Co-op and the RSPB will initially focus on areas of internationally important, RSPB-owned upland peatland in Scotland and Wales, which are equivalent in size to about 400 football pitches.    

In the UK alone, an estimated 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in peatlands, and it is believed that without any intervention to repair and preserve UK peatlands, their greenhouse gas emissions could exceed the equivalent of 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year.

Co-op’s initial investment of £1million his year (2023) is funded through sales of compostable carrier bags in its stores, and forms part of Co-op’s Climate Plan commitments to fund UK natural restoration. It will not count this work towards its carbon reduction targets or use this as an ‘offset’ to make claims towards carbon neutrality.

Since 2016, Co-op has more than halved (56%) the carbon emissions of its operations, and in 2021 the retailer became the first UK supermarket to ban the sale of peat-based bagged compost from its stores, selling only peat-free alternatives.  

In addition to restoring and maintaining actively eroding peatland, and creating the conditions needed for the areas to recover, the projects will deliver additional environmental benefits including the protection of natural habitats for wildlife; and potentially improving water quality and, reducing flood risk by regulating water flow.  

The partnership will initially focus on two areas of peatland which will both undergo a large-scale and complex programme of restoration and long-term management, also supported by National Peatland Action Programme in Wales and Peatland ACTION in Scotland.   

  • Cerniau at RSPB Lake Vyrnwy in Powys, Wales - at the southern end of the Berwyn and South Clwyd mountains: A Special Area of Conservation, a Special Protected Area and Special Site of Scientific Interest, which is the largest area of blanket bog and European dry heath in Wales. The Berwyn range is also considered to be the most important upland area in Wales for breeding birds, with the area supporting a wide range of species including internationally significant numbers of Hen Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine and Red Kite.   
  • Lumbister at RSPB Yell, which is situated on one of Shetland’s most northern isles: The peatland found across Lumbister is home to upland waders including Snipe, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Curlew, and Whimbrel, as well as other birds such as Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Red-throated Divers. Otters are also found here. The rare Bog Orchid is found at Lumbister along with Sphagnum moss, and the carnivorous plants, Round-Leaved Sundew and Butterwort. The partnership will build on work which took place at the site in 2021. 

Guy Stuart, Director of Sustainability, Technical and Agriculture, Co-op said: “We are in the grip of a climate and environment emergency, a crisis which is of humankind’s making. Around the world we are seeing shocking water shortages, floods, extreme heat and biodiversity losses. We need to decarbonise, and quickly. Through co-operation we can reduce carbon much faster than we are at the moment, and our pioneering partnership with the RSPB can play a part in helping to avoid carbon emissions - repairing peatlands to increase carbon stores and supporting our work to prioritise action where we can make the most impact.” 

Rebecca Munro the RSPB’s Executive Director for Income and Conservation Investment said “For us to have any chance of averting the climate crisis we need to be working far more closely with nature; to use the solutions it offers to help lock up carbon whilst also delivering for birds and other wildlife. Businesses have a vital role to play in the transition to net zero and we are excited to be working with Co-op to protect and restore some of our most precious upland sites to make sure these places are delivering for our climate whilst also providing a lasting home for our wildlife.”