Understanding the impacts of climate change is critical to the future management of the uplands, said Natural England, when hosting a major national conference looking at the environmental future of the English uplands.
The conference, which included a keynote speech by Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, highlighted the invaluable environmental services provided by the uplands and the significant impacts climate change will have on their landscapes and natural environment.
Speaking at the conference, Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “The uplands are inspirational places that thousands of people enjoy, and that provide vital environmental services such as clean water supplies, flood management and carbon storage. They also provide a safe haven for some of England’s most threatened wildlife.”
At the conference, the Environment Secretary launched a new Natural England report* highlighting how land managers – from hill farmers through to utility companies - have a vital role to play in maintaining England’s peatlands as carbon stores and in securing environmental services that contribute to improved water quality and flood alleviation.
Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, said: “I am pleased today to launch Natural England’s report on the role of land and marine managers as carbon managers. It is a particularly important contribution to the debate over how we manage our land, and in particular our uplands, which are so important in storing carbon. It sets out both what land managers can do to help maintain their carbon stores and the gaps that remain in our understanding of the science.”
Helen Phillips continued: “We must manage the uplands with climate change in mind and understand how the environmental services they provide are likely to adapt. As England’s most important carbon store, peatlands play a particularly crucial role and we must do all we can to ensure that they are properly looked after and maintained. Land managers are the linchpins of this work.”
Natural England’s green farming schemes already support land managers in protecting these areas through re-wetting and blocking drainage channels. Carbon trading could also provide a potential new business opportunity for land managers across the uplands and we are scoping how this could work in practice with the farming industry.
Highlights for the reports show that:
Helen Phillips concluded: “The challenges of climate change across the uplands are significant and we need to take a long term view to ensure we can continue to make the most of the services that a high quality, well-managed upland environment can provide.”
- Peatlands are England’s most important carbon store but are also losing carbon due to degradation contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. There are about 680,000 ha of deep peatland soils in England, of which half is in the uplands.
- England’s peat soils store around 300 million tonnes of carbon. Natural England estimates that degraded peatlands are losing carbon about 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year which is about 1% of total UK emissions. As a comparison, domestic aviation as a proportion of total UK emissions was 0.43% in 2005.
- Improving the condition of all existing upland habitats and water resources is a priority, particularly high carbon ones like blanket bog. Peatland restoration will reduce carbon losses, although we need to better understand post-restoration methane emissions which could reduce the carbon savings.
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