New Wildlife Trusts report says tackling climate change must start with nature

New Wildlife Trusts report says tackling climate change must start with nature

Chimney meadows by Andrew Marshall Go Wild Landscapes

A new report by The Wildlife Trusts ahead of COP26 warns that in order to tackle climate change humanity needs to restore nature - but tackling climate change will also help us restore nature.

The report - Let Nature Help – COP26 Edition - cites numerous examples of how natural habitats such as peat, woodland and seagrass can absorb huge amounts of carbon, and also advises that farming in certain ways can help as well.

The Trusts have published the new edition of the report – first published last year – ahead of COP26 in Glasgow. They are now calling on the Government to honour its presidency of the UN climate conference by taking action to protect the environment for wildlife, force farmers to be more sustainable and, in doing so, make huge strides to tackle UK carbon emissions. If leaders do not tackle both crises at speed, they warn, then neither will be solved.

The October 2021 COP26 edition of The Wildlife Trusts' Let Nature Help report on tackling climate change.

The October 2021 COP26 edition of The Wildlife Trusts' Let Nature Help report on tackling climate change.

Estelle Bailey, Chief Executive of BBOWT, said:

"We are currently facing a nature and climate crisis, but the Government can tackle both problems with one simple solution - more nature everywhere. By restoring badly-degraded natural habitats all over the country we can also help trap tons of atmospheric carbon which is currently threatening those habitats. At the same time, we can also help thousands of vulnerable species.

"For too long, we have had a broken relationship with nature: by fixing that relationship, we can help the whole planet start to recover. It’s not too late to turn things around, but we need urgent action now, not just empty promises."

The Wildlife Trusts call on the Government to:


· Increase the natural regeneration of woods and where this cannot be done, plant resilient native trees instead

· Ensure a mix of trees is planted in every location so as to have the best chance of survival in unpredictable conditions and in the face of increased pests and diseases


· Give a boost to sustainable farming that locks carbon into the soil and helps wildlife

· Publish details on how Environmental Land Management Scheme will incentivise farmers to manage their land for nature-based solutions


· Make more space for nature everywhere including in towns and new developments. By 2030 we need to have protected 30% of our land and seas for nature. Create a new designation, Wildbelt, which protects places, including degraded land, that is put into recovery for nature

· Ensure that planning reforms deliver the Government’s legally binding target in the Environment Bill to halt species decline by 2030


· Significantly increase peatland restoration and repair 100% of upland peat by 2050

· Implement an immediate ban on peatland burning and end farming on deep peat

· Ban the sale and use of peat in gardening and compost products, including imports


· Implement a ban on bottom-trawling the seabed in England

· Give all seagrass habitats highly protected status

· Renew pledges to protect coastal habitats and invest more in natural sea defences

The October 2021 COP26 edition of The Wildlife Trusts' Let Nature Help report on tackling climate change.

The October 2021 COP26 edition of The Wildlife Trusts' Let Nature Help report on tackling climate change.

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“Nature’s fantastic ability to trap carbon safely and provide other important benefits is proven – peatland, woodland, saltmarsh and other wild habitats are vital carbon stores. But these natural places are in decline and face even greater risk of degradation from extreme climatic conditions. It’s becoming a vicious spiral of damage – one that has to be stopped right now.

“In addition to the urgent task of cutting emissions at source, we need to see an enormous rise in the amount of land and sea that’s protected for nature – and increase it to at least 30% by 2030. Also, the Government must embed climate action – mitigation and adaptation – across every department and take urgent steps to stop carbon-emitting activities such as new road building, peat burning and trawling the seabed.”

During COP26 The Wildlife Trusts will host live daily updates online on key issues. There will also be a panel event, Let Nature Help, on Sunday 7th November at 7pm chaired by The Wildlife Trusts’ chief executive, Craig Bennett. Guests include:

· Baroness Brown of Cambridge, chair of the Climate Change Committee's Adaptation Committee

· Holly Owens, Young Leader at Scottish Wildlife Trust

· Professor Nathalie Seddon, Director of Nature-based Solutions at Oxford University

The Wildlife Trusts have a list of things people can do about climate change online ranging from choices about the food we eat, the way we travel and how to stop homes overheating.

Editor's notes






Let nature help – outlines key habitats that will store carbon if restored:

  • The UK’s peatland soils store around 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon, but are heavily degraded and release the equivalent of 23 million tonnes of CO2 every year. Restored peatlands can capture more carbon, reduce flooding, clean our water, and allow wildlife to thrive.
  • A hectare of seagrass may store two tonnes of CO2 a year and hold it for centuries, while providing nursery habitat for young fish. But we have lost half our seagrass meadows since 1985. Reducing water pollution and replanting would bring them back to health. Well-managed Marine Protected Areas are vital for nature’s recovery at sea.
  • A hectare of saltmarsh can capture two tonnes of carbon a year and lock it into sediments for centuries, but we are losing nearly 100 hectares of saltmarsh a year. Coastal realignment could restore much of it and reduce flooding and erosion.
  • Wetlands can accumulate carbon for centuries, but in some areas of the UK we have lost over 90% of our wetland habitat. Restored wetlands provide rich habitat, clean water naturally and reduce flood risk downstream. Less drainage and over-abstraction, the return of beavers and naturalising rivers will lock up more carbon.
  • Oceans absorb 20-35% of human-made CO2 emissions every year. Carbon is incorporated into the tissues of plants and animals, and later into mud and sediment. Human activities release this carbon and also impact populations of marine animals. Introducing Marine Spatial Planning would integrate all activities to avoid harms and maximise benefits.
  • UK grasslands store 2 billion tonnes of carbon, but this is vulnerable to disturbance. Between 1990-2006, arable conversion of grasslands released 14 million tonnes of CO2. We can restore species-rich grasslands to lock up carbon and support abundant wildlife
  • About 1 billion tonnes of carbon are locked up in UK woodlands, mostly in the soils. Planting more woods could lock up more carbon, but this must be carefully planned to maximise benefits and avoid harming other habitats. We need to protect our existing woodland, help it to expand and join-up. We’re calling for 40% more hedges to help reach net zero by 2050.


On land, 66% of carbon in nature-rich areas is outside protected sites. We need to identify, map and protect these ecosystems, and restore them locally as part of a national Nature Recovery Network. We also need to incentivise farmers and other land managers to improve their land for nature and contribute to this network. At sea, we need effective marine planning, and an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.


Healthy ecosystems on land and at sea can absorb vast quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere and lock it away as carbon. However, human activities such as intensive arable farming, overgrazing, overfishing and irresponsible development, release this stored carbon and drive nature’s decline. As a first step, we urgently need to protect important ecosystems so their carbon isn’t released and they can continue to absorb CO2. We also need to put nature into recovery across 30% of land and sea, so the natural world can cope with the climate change that is already happening and contribute effectively to stabilising it. Doing this across a mosaic of connected habitats will also deliver many other benefits for flood prevention, coastal defences, healthier lives and natural resilience.