Nature’s solution to climate change

Oxeye Daisy © David Kilbey

How our nature reserves and local wild places are playing their part in the race against climate change.

Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, extreme weather events are altering seasonal norms and wildlife is struggling to keep pace. While future generations will be the worst affected, climate change is not a dystopian film plotline. It is happening right now, and the earth’s vital signs are showing a worrying pattern of decline.

In 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement set a goal of keeping global temperatures from increasing further than 2°C. Since then the mercury has continued to rise. Evidence suggests that it is now too late to limit excessive warming through the reduction of emissions alone, and that nature has a vital role to play.

Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are home to large swathes of land with great potential as carbon stores, and we need your help to maintain and enhance our local natural climate solutions.

Trees at Milton Locks nature reserve

© Paul Gonella

Woodlands

Trees draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it, turning the captured carbon into building blocks for their roots, trunks and branches. Trees also cool the air with moisture and shade, and could reduce temperatures by up to 4% in urban areas. Trees are highly effective carbon banks, and the beauty is that they are self-generating, cost very little, and in many cases they don’t even need to be planted. Allowing trees to regenerate naturally from scrub often results in forests which are more resilient against drought and disease. Research suggests that this approach would store around 400 tonnes of carbon per square kilometre every year, as well as providing improved flood
protection.

St Catherine's Hill, Winchester, by Ed Merritt

St Catherine's Hill, Winchester, by Ed Merritt

Grasslands

Grasslands store carbon dioxide in the soil, and they are particularly effective when the ground is rich in plant diversity. A number of our nature reserves comprise of species-rich grassland, including St Catherine’s Hill in Winchester and Arreton Down on the Isle of Wight. Not only are these reserves contributing to a wider network of carbon dioxide absorbing grasslands, they provide habitat for invertebrates and other wildlife. At Barton Meadows nature reserve in Winchester we have reverted arable fields (which are net carbon emitters) to wildflower meadows (which are net absorbers), and are noticing increased soil invertebrate populations as well as a surge in pollinating insects. Combined, these nature reserves cover over 97 hectares of land, capable of locking away around 11,000 tonnes of carbon.

Fishlake Meadows in summer

© Tony Wright

Floodplains

Floodplains are areas of grassland adjacent to rivers where flooding may occur, and they are hugely valuable as carbon traps. Winnall Moors, which covers around 160 acres, could offset one passenger’s share in nearly 1,000 return flights from Southampton to Newcastle each year! Moreover, floodplains store significant amounts of water; the Rivers Test and Itchen were once connected to their floodplains, the loss of which contributed to the serious floods of 2014. Floodplains are capable of retaining up to five times more water throughout the year compared to improved grasslands, which are managed to increase productivity (usually through ploughing or herbicide use). Creating joined-up networks of healthy floodplain meadows across the landscape could mitigate soil erosion and pollution, and prevent serious flooding in the future.

Eastern Yar, Isle of Wight © Ian Pratt

Eastern Yar, Isle of Wight © Ian Pratt

Peatlands

The UK’s peatlands store around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon, and we get 70% of our drinking water from peatland river catchments. Sadly, more than 94% of the UK’s lowland peat bogs have been destroyed or damaged, and this vital habitat isn’t easily replaced: peat takes thousands of years to form. In order to perform all of its essential functions, peat must be wet, so the degradation of our river systems and wetland habitats has terrible implications for this valuable natural resource. Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are home to nationally important peat beds, some of which sit within the boundaries of our nature reserves. The Eastern Yar River Valley, for example, contains some of the deepest peat deposits in southern England. We are working with our partners to restore floodplain habitats, improving them for wildlife and enhancing their peat-building capacity.

Seahorse in seagrass

© Julie Hatcher

Seagrass beds & salt marshes

If a seagrass bed remains undisturbed, it can trap vast amounts of carbon for hundreds of years. This is partly because most of the carbon is trapped within plants and algae, which release some of their trapped carbon when they die and decompose. Decomposition happens more slowly under the sediment, so once carbon is locked in it can stay that way for longer. Salt marshes are also highly effective at sequestering carbon. When marshland plants die they are buried in the mud, rather than decomposing and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes nature reserve on the New Forest coast is a fantastic example of a thriving salt marsh. Sadly, this precious habitat and others like it are eroding at a terrifi c rate due to sea level rise. However, securing new low-lying land adjacent to sites like Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes would prolong their lifespan and create additional habitat, and we are always on the lookout for opportunities to purchase suitable sites.

How you can help…
 

Woodlands

If you are a landowner or if you have a garden large enough, could you plant a tree and add to a global network of carbon stores? Oak trees are particularly effective at storing carbon, and they will provide valuable habitat for birds and invertebrates. If you find a sapling in your garden which has established naturally, you could leave it to grow instead of pulling it up. We are always happy to advise on putting the right tree in the right place. If you are unable to accommodate a tree, you could help look after woodlands in your local area. The Trust has lots of volunteering opportunities available, and so do other conservation organisations including the Woodland Trust and the Conservation Volunteers.

Grasslands

Do not pave over your garden lawn or replace it with plastic grass and decking. Let it grow a little wilder with wildflowers – not only will your garden be a more pleasant place to spend a sunny day, but you will be contributing to a network of healthy green spaces in which carbon can be absorbed and wildlife can thrive.

Peatlands

Peat has been a major ingredient of the compost used in gardening for many years. This peat has been dug out of wild places, damaging some of the last remaining peatlands in the UK. But peat-free compost is available and if everyone used it our peatlands would be safe from this damaging practice.

Seagrass beds

Sailing is hugely popular across our region, and for many is a way to connect with our marine environment. But it is important to be careful with how and where you anchor, as dragging can damage seagrass beds. The Royal Yachting Association has great advice on how to anchor and moor responsibly.