Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

Guest blog by Julian Hughes, RSPB Cymru Head of Public Affairs

Earlier this month, on World Environment Day, RSPB Cymru and WWF Cymru organised an event in the Senedd, the National Assembly of Wales, to highlight the urgent need for action to ensure nature can recover and thrive. It was an uplifting occasion, as there was a real sense that politicians have been listening to public concern about both the climate emergency and the need for nature recovery.

On the same day, RSPB scientists published a “carbon story map”, which highlights that the best places for nature in the UK also hold massive amounts of carbon. If lost to the atmosphere, this carbon would equate (very conservatively) to two gigatons of CO2, equivalent to four years of the UK’s annual overall CO2 emissions.

The indicative map shows where these prime places are. Our peatlands, nature-rich woodlands, extensive grassland and coastal mudflats and saltmarsh top the habitat lists for nature and carbon. In Wales, there are big areas such as the uplands of Snowdonia, Mynydd Hiraethog, Elenydd-Mallaen and the Brecon Beacons, and coastal wetlands such as the Burry Inlet and Dee estuary. But as you zoom into the maps, there’s a multitude of smaller places that are important for nature and carbon, somewhere close to your home wherever in Wales you live.

At a UK level, our mapping shows that two-thirds of this carbon sits outside our protected nature sites. Even at these sites, poor habitat condition often means that stored carbon is being lost to the atmosphere – a fact that is well-documented for peatlands. In Wales, The State of Natural Resources Report 2016 shows that 63%-73% of mountain, moorland and heath in SSSIs is in unfavourable condition – and these are the places notified as the most important for nature.

Our maps point clearly to what needs to be done, but also provide superb examples of how land management for nature is already making a difference. RSPB Cors Ddyga nature reserve on Anglesey, for example, is a SSSI, a large part of which is under agricultural management. That helps to secure and replicate natural processes that are critical for carbon and nature, such as nesting lapwings, bitterns, marsh harriers, otters and water voles.

Our maps use publicly available data and are indicative. They can be improved to define more accurately the most important areas for nature and carbon on the ground, and we hope that Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales will embrace this approach. Indeed, we’d like it extended to include ‘blue carbon’ areas in the marine environment, as the Scottish Government has committed to. With better mapping, we can identify and protect all our carbon and nature rich places, integrate them into land and marine planning and protection, and target these as a priority for habitat recovery.

That habitat recovery needs to be properly funded, and Welsh Government’s recent announcement about its intentions for a sustainable farming scheme post-Brexit provides a significant opportunity for both capital and ongoing management. It’s a clear-cut case of public funding for public goods. Farmers who do the right things for nature should be recognised and paid for that. A replacement for EU LIFE funding will also be needed to continue innovative habitat restoration and adaptation projects.

We need proper monitoring of the condition and recovery of habitats in Wales, so that we can measure the benefits for both carbon and nature and develop and share best practice. And there are things we should do immediately, taking action where we know the benefits, such as calling a halt to burning on peatbogs.

The climate emergency is real and is challenging to both people and wildlife. So, development of land management win-wins for carbon and nature is a no-brainer. Our maps provide a powerful argument that we must properly look after those valuable places that are crucial for both protection and restoration of nature and for fighting climate change.

Do explore the story map to find out more about carbon in nature rich areas, and zoom in to the places that are important to you – and important to nature in Wales.

For more information about the UK's carbon story map, please contact Olly.Watts@rspb.org.uk