A new report by UK scientists says nature can make a valuable contribution to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss.

The first complete assessment of its kind for the UK aims to provide the evidence base for effective policies and incentives that will maximise the benefits from nature-based solutions to these twin crises.

The report, produced by the British Ecological Society, incorporates contributions from more than 100 experts, including scientists from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH).

It examines how nature-based solutions could be implemented to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as simultaneously protecting and enhancing biodiversity, improving people’s wellbeing and bringing economic benefit. Though it also highlights the limitations and the inevitable trade-offs involved.

A chapter is dedicated to each of eight different habitats – woodlands, heathlands, peatlands, grasslands, arable, freshwater, coastal and marine, and built environment.

Grasslands are the most extensive habitat type in the UK, covering 40 per cent of the land but only two per cent of this is semi-natural grassland that is both biodiverse and carbon-rich.

UKCEH agro-ecologist Dr Lisa Norton, the lead author of the Grasslands chapter, says: “Over the last 70 years grasslands have suffered a great loss of biodiversity through agricultural intensification. But this loss gives us great potential. Protecting our semi-natural grasslands and restoring lower quality grasslands will benefit biodiversity, reduce emissions through ploughing.

“Taking nature-based approaches to agriculturally improved grassland will help make livestock farming more sustainable.”

Dr Norton was also one of the authors on the chapter on arable systems.

A priority identified in the report is the restoration of the UK’s peatlands, which make up around 10 per cent of the UK’s land cover and contain around three billion tonnes of carbon. Most are in a degraded state due to drainage for agriculture and forestry, fire and peat extraction. Overall they are emitting the equivalent of around 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – which equates to more than four per cent of the UK’s human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Annette Burden, a wetland scientist at UKCEH who was one of the authors of the peatlands chapter, says: “We need to look after our peatlands because restoration and more effective management of these huge stores of carbon is crucial to meeting the UK’s net zero targets. Rewetting and revegetation can not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also bring benefits in terms of biodiversity conservation and reduced flood risk.”

Professor Chris Evans, a biogeochemist at UKCEH, also worked on the peatlands chapter, while spatial ecologist Flora Donald was an author of the woodlands chapter.

The report says there is scope to expand woodland, which currently makes up 13 per cent of the UK’s land cover, and adds natural establishment of native trees should be encouraged where appropriate. However, it points out the full benefits from climate mitigation through increased carbon sequestration will not be realised before 2050.

The various benefits of woodland, including reduced flood risk, preventing soil erosion, supporting biodiversity, plus providing shade and cooling, were also highlighted in other chapters of the report. This included a recommendation that trees and shrubs are integrated into agricultural systems – known as agroforestry.

In addition to the chapter authors, other scientists acted as reviewers including Dr Jeanette Whitaker, Professor Laurence Jones and Dr Linda May of UKCEH.

You can read the report, Nature-based Solutions for Climate Change in the UK: A Report by the British Ecological Society, on BES’s website.