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Rewilding the UK can help it meet climate aims, report claims

Restoring natural environments across the UK could help the country hit its climate change targets, a new report has claimed.

Natural climate solutions such as the rewilding of native woodland, peatlands and heathlands could make a ‘significant contribution’ to reducing carbon emissions, says the report by Rewilding Britain.

The organisation has said that such schemes, funded by the redirection of farming subsidies, would help the UK save millions of tonnes of CO2 a year.

‘Rewilding cannot solve climate change on its own but it could play a pivotal role,’ wrote the report’s co-authors, Rewilding Britain’s chief executive Rebecca Wrigley and its director Alistair Driver.

‘What we are calling for is more public debate around how our countryside is managed into the future and how we balance sustainable farming with ensuring local people can make a viable living.’

Should Brexit go ahead, the UK will leave the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy subsidy system, which currently costs the government £3bn in payments a year.

According to Rewilding Britain, £1.9bn of the funding saved from leaving the subsidy system could be used to encourage farmers to create new wildlife and protect existing ecosystems covering a total of 6 million hectares.

These ecosystems could absorb and store over 47 million tonnes of CO2 a year, equivalent to 10% of the UK’s annual emissions, the report claims.

The report proposes incentivising farmers to save CO2 by designing a subsidy payment model based on carbon capture and biodiversity enhancement.

This, it says, could help the UK achieve its climate change commitments and help the land use sector meet targets set by the National Farmers Union (NFU), which is aiming for net zero emissions across English and Welsh agriculture by 2040.

Under the report’s suggested model, new woodlands would be the most valuable, worth £512 per hectare per year, while restoring peatbogs and heathland would supply £292 per hectare per year.

Earlier this month, the NFU said that improving productivity and boosting renewable energy, not hitting British food production, would be the best way for it to reach its 2040 target.

Deputy president of the NFU Guy Smith said: ‘Acting to tackle damaging climate change is vital. However, we will not halt climate change by curbing British production and exporting it to countries which may not have the same environmental conscience, or ambition to reduce their climate impact.’

A government spokesperson said: ‘Climate change is one of the most urgent and pressing challenges we face today, and the UK is a world leader in tackling this problem.’

Measures announced by the government to create and protect the UK’s natural ecosystems last year were its £50m Woodland Carbon Guarantee and a £10m fund to restore 6580 hectares of peatlands.

Image credit: Eric Jones (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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