Our scientists have an excellent track record in finding solutions to 21st century conservation problems and today we publish new information which could help tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.  

Our "carbon in nature rich areas" story map highlights that the best places for nature across 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 COemissions. 

The indicative maps we’ve made for the UK show 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. Alongside several case studies, you can zoom into the maps, which highlight that there’s a multitude of smaller places that are important for nature and carbon, alongside the large swathes of upland peatlands and other more prominent areas.  

Worryingly, our mapping shows that two-thirds of this carbon sits outside our protected nature sites. And even worse, the Government’s own statistics show that around half of the species and habitats in our protected areas are not in favourable condition - and that review left many of these areas unassessed. Poor habitat condition often means that stored carbon is being lost to the atmosphere – which is well documented for peatlands, in a recent report to BEIS

Our maps point clearly to what needs to be done.  

First, the mapping we’ve been able to do at the UK scale, from publicly available data, needs to be developed in each of the UK countries, to better define the most important areas for nature and carbon on the ground.  In England, the Nature Recovery Network offers a ready-made opportunity to embrace this. With better mapping, we can identify and then protect all our carbon and nature rich places, integrate them into national land planning and protection, and target these as a priority for habitat recovery. 

Second, this needs to be properly funded through Environmental Land Management payments, for both capital and ongoing management– it’s a clear-cut case of public funding for public goods. A replacement for EU LIFE funding will also be needed to continue innovative habitat restoration and adaptation projects.

Third, we need proper monitoring of habitat condition and recovery, so that we can measure the benefits for both carbon and nature and develop and share best practice. 

Fourth, there are also things we should do immediately, taking action where we know the benefits, and which will give us early wins whilst this more institutional approach is being developed. Ending burning on peatbogs is one of these – this would reduce climate change emissions from England’s upland bogs by 75%, according to Natural England while also aiding the legal obligations to restore this internationally important habitat.

Our mapping is really timely: the Government petition to restore nature on a massive scale to help stop climate breakdown has just reached 100,000 signatures, heralding a parliamentary debate. There’s a review of England’s protected landscapes underway, for which we are calling for the protection, restoration, monitoring and management of carbon and nature rich areas to become a core objective of National Parks and AONBs.   

And of course our domestic concerns sit in the context of global crisis. The recent IPBES report puts a million species at risk of extinction. The climate change outlook is challenging to both people and wildlife, to say the least. So, development of land management win-wins for both carbon and nature has a worldwide application, which we’re sharing with our BirdLife partners. 

You can add your voice by joining us at our mass lobby of Westminster  - The Time Is Now  - on 26 June when, with other organisations, we'll be making the case for action to drive nature's recovery and tackle climate change.  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 across the UK – and hopefully I’ll see you in Westminster later this month.

  • There's no doubt that peatlands are by far and away the most significant and cost effective way to capture carbon in the UK - but we don't hear much about them. There are a number of reasons - by far the leading one is that the 'market' is much keener on things it can make easy money from  - the RSPB Triodos loan to 'green' the RSPB estate (which is great) is a good example, and for the same reason we hear far more about carbon capture which looks tecky and expensive, and a cost easily passed on to us consumers than we do about natural solutions. Added to which going for carbon (and water) in the uplands needn't cost that much - we're already spending the money on sheep and grouse both of which are positively damaging both carbon & water values - just switch the funding, because these are the values of the future uplands. There are no physical barriers and limited costs - just institutional inertia & vested interests.