We depend on nature and it depends on us.

Many natural systems play a critical role in limiting the effects of climate change, by absorbing huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases, while at the same time providing other important services such as clean water, flood mitigation, and food.

We also urgently need nature to recover, with more space for wildlife and greater biodiversity, so that natural systems can store much more carbon and wildlife can cope with the impacts that are already happening. In their current degraded state, many ecosystems cannot achieve their full potential for locking away carbon - and some may even emit more carbon than they take in, so it’s vital that wide-scale conservation takes place across the UK to repair the damage.

With the right management, natural systems could absorb at least one third of our carbon dioxide emissions each year.

How can the environment in Wiltshire contribute to this?

Natural climate solutions infographic

In 2020 Wiltshire Wildlife Trust committed itself to achieving net carbon zero by 2030 and being net carbon positive by 2050.

In 2019/20, the Trust captured and stored more carbon than it emitted.  Emissions amounted to 1,036 tCO2e/yr while sequestration of carbon on our nature reserves amounted to 1,419 tCO2e/yr plus 1,379 tCO2e of emissions avoided by the generation of 5,918KWhr of electricity from the solar panels operated by Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy Company.

In our county we are blessed with extensive grassland, wetland and woodland, all habitats with great potential to capture carbon if managed correctly. Through photosynthesis, decomposition and other natural processes, healthy ecosystems will pull CO2 from the atmosphere and lock it safely away as carbon. On land, much of this carbon is stored in the soils; in fact, more is held in the world’s soils than in plants and the atmosphere combined.

As a first step, we need to protect important habitats like woodlands and grasslands from damage, so their carbon isn’t released and they can continue to absorb CO2. We also need to act to create new carbon-absorbing habitats where we’ve lost them, and ensure activities like farming and development can contribute to nature’s recovery.

Clouts Wood image taken by Owain Shaw

The importance of soil

While trees and other plants lock up a lot of carbon, nearly three times as much carbon is held in the woodland soils which support them. UK woodlands cover approximately 3.19 million hectares, or 13% of the total land area, and absorb an estimated 21 million tonnes of CO2 a year. Protecting existing woodlands and expanding tree cover will be vital for locking up carbon naturally. It can also have many other benefits, including greater access to nature in both rural and urban environments, air purification, temperature regulation, and increased biodiversity.

The UK’s grasslands store nearly 2 billion tonnes of carbon in their soils. Grasslands can support abundant, diverse wildlife including pollinators and rare plants, and have been found to store carbon faster than monocultures. In healthy grasslands, carbon is stored not only in surface plants, but through complex relationships between plants, fungi, invertebrates, bacteria and other species in the soil. Habitats such as marshes, wet grassland and floodplains also can be hugely important for holding carbon.

Wetlands support diverse wildlife, and can hold back water after heavy rain, cleaning it naturally, and reducing the downstream flood risk.

Chalk grassland wildflowers at Coombe Bissett Down

How are the Wildlife Trusts helping to achieve the recovery of nature?

The Wildlife Trusts have been working for decades to maintain our nature reserves as havens of biodiversity, protecting threatened species and providing sanctuaries for humans to improve their health and wellbeing by reconnecting with nature. We’ve ensured where possible that development has an overall positive impact on nature: influencing planning decisions, responding to thousands of planning applications every year, and campaigning against destructive development. We know that given half a chance nature can recover in incredible ways.

That's why this year the Wildlife Trusts nationally will launch the ‘30/30 campaign’ – calling for 30% of the UK’s land and seas to be managed for nature’s recovery by 2030. Collectively, we aim to raise £30 million to begin to tackle, on a scale not seen before in the UK, the joint climate and ecological emergency resulting from the destruction of our natural world.

What is the role for government and industry?

Nature’s recovery must be put at the heart of planning; construction and development must avoid unnecessarily damaging vital natural carbon stores, and must compensate for its impact on the natural environment. 

We need:

  • Planning laws which prioritise nature's recovery
  • Local Nature Recovery Strategies which feed into a national Nature Recovery Network
  • Biodiversity 'Net Gain'
  • A system that pays farmers for delivering 'public goods' such as improved soil health
  • Regulation of farming that prevents damage to ecosystems which are essential for future generations

We need to go above and beyond business as usual to restore our vital habitats on a larger, more ambitious scale, and to put back what we’ve lost. With investment and support from governments, businesses and local communities, we can create a step-change in the recovery of our natural environment, and forge a new balance with nature which guarantees sustainability and human health for generations to come.

Find out more about natural climate solutions

How you can take action on the climate crisis in Wiltshire: