How restoring nature can help decarbonise the UK

Rewilding Britain’s director Alastair Driver and chief executive Rebecca Wrigley introduce our new report on rewilding and climate breakdown.

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What a spring it’s been. We’ve seen the arrival of Extinction Rebellion, the BBC’s hard-hitting David Attenborough documentary on climate, Greta Thunberg’s visit and a wave of declarations of climate emergency across the UK. Something momentous seems to be happening.

The breakdown of our climate is no longer a fringe concern, but is increasingly recognised by the public as an urgent threat, to both nature and human society. The gap between our awareness of that threat and the inadequacy of our current response has become clear.

Today we publish a report intended to help bridge that gap.

Rewilding and other natural climate solutions can draw millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by restoring and protecting our living systems. 

Evidence suggests they could provide over a third of the greenhouse gas mitigation required globally between now and 2030.

Yet so far they have attracted only 2.5% of funding for mitigation, and far too little political attention.

The rewilding of peatlands, heathland, native woodlands, saltmarshes, wetlands and coastal waters in the UK can all make a significant contribution to carbon sequestration.

And of course there are so many other good reasons to restore nature, such as reversing the losses of biodiversity, protecting ourselves from flooding, improving water quality and increasing human health and wellbeing through reconnection with a wilder world.

Supporting stewards of the land

Those of us who work and manage the land play a pivotal role. Any system must reward those who deliver carbon reductions as part of a mosaic of land uses, that bring all the benefits just mentioned and sustain thriving rural communities.

This report outlines how a new subsidy system could, through a rewilding-based approach, financially support farmers and other landowners to increase carbon sequestration on their land, and restore damaged and degraded ecosystems.

The time’s now

Whatever its final shape, Brexit and the replacement of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy system provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to promote a profound change in land use. This change has to protect our climate and support both people and wildlife to flourish.

This new system could make a substantial contribution to achieving the UK’s commitments under the Climate Change Act, as well as supporting the land use sector to meet the targets set by the NFU of net zero emissions by 2040.

To give a sense of the scale, if £1.9 billion of the £3 billion currently spent on CAP payments were allocated to supporting native woodland re-establishment, the restoration and protection of peatbogs and heaths, and species-rich grasslands over a total of 6 million hectares, this could sequester 47 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

This is more than 10% of current UK greenhouse gas emissions.

This compares to the UK Government’s current commitment of £50 million to help plant new woodlands through the Woodland Carbon Guarantee and only £10 million towards peatland restoration. 

What we’re calling for

Rewilding Britain is calling for the UK and devolved governments to make a bolder financial and political commitment to nature’s recovery. We are asking them to:

1) Integrate carbon sequestration into any new public money for public goods’ mechanisms to incentivise large-scale natural climate solutions. 

We propose a model of payments that values carbon sequestration and biodiversity enhancement in different restored ecosystems, particularly focused on less productive and marginal landscapes to minimise the impact on opportunity costs for food production. 

Our indicative annual standard payments would support:

- restored peat bogs and heathland at £292/​ha
- woodland at £512/​ha
- species-rich grassland at £144/​ha
- saltmarsh at £322/​ha, ponds and lakes at £204/​ha
- offshore ecosystems at £161/​ha per year. 

Land holdings that come together to form contiguous zones of recovering, protected and restored ecosystems could attract enhanced payments.

2) Establish a mandatory economy-wide carbon pricing mechanism linked to carbon emissions to raise dedicated revenue to help fund natural climate solutions. 

This should incentivise emissions reductions whilst providing additional funds to support carbon sequestration activities in the agricultural and land use sectors.

3) Support locally-led partnerships to coordinate action across landholdings to ensure natural climate solutions are designed and brokered locally within each ecological, economic and cultural context. 

Download the full report

While you’re here…

In April we launched a UK parliamentary petition, calling for the mass restoration of nature to help stop climate breakdown.

Already over 85,000 people from all across the UK have signed. When we get to 100,000 we will trigger a much-needed debate in parliament.

You can help us build the pressure to act by signing the petition and encouraging anyone you know who wants to see the restoration of nature to do the same. Thank you.

Tell the UK government to restore nature to help stop climate breakdown

Sign the petition