Restoring the UK’s natural habitats could help lock away 14 tonnes of CO2 per year, according to a new study published by scientists at the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB).
In the research which published today (June 8), the scientists analysed how much carbon was already stored in areas important for conservation, and how much more could be absorbed each year if some of those areas were restored.
The researchers focused on two priority habitats, peatland and heath. Peatlands are one of the UK’s most valuable habitats as they play a vital role in supporting unique plants and rare wildlife.
However, peatlands have become degraded due to drainage, erosion and inappropriate management, meaning that they are now releasing carbon, losing around 3 million tonnes of per year.
According to the paper restoring these habitats will not only be beneficial for nature but will also increase the amount of CO2 absorbed to around 14.6 million tonnes of CO2 a year, this is equal to around a third of all emissions produced by agriculture.
Dr Rob Field, the lead author of the paper, said: ‘Currently our nature-rich lands are already doing an excellent job; they hold a massive store of around 0.5 Gigatonnes of carbon, around 30% of our land-based store on just 20% of its area, as well as capturing an additional 8.7 million tonnes of CO2 every year.
‘However, this store and processes are at risk because many of these important habitats are in poor condition, and two-thirds lack any form of protection.
‘This is likely to be a conservative estimate, and if we were to consider the other nature-rich habitats, the figure is likely to be higher.
‘This study shows the importance of looking after our natural places for nature and society, especially as we consider where funding should be allocated to achieve a low carbon future.’
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