Over half of all carbon emissions released into the atmosphere by humans are re-absorbed by the Earth’s natural systems. And yet, many of these systems are broken, the habitats providing them damaged and degraded. Restoring these systems would allow even more carbon to be absorbed – and The Wildlife Trusts are playing a leading role in helping this happen.
At sea, the Trusts fought for the Marine Act 2009: properly implemented it restores our most important carbon absorber and the wildlife that lives within it, including kelp and phytoplankton. On land, 9% of the UK’s surface is a huge carbon store with carbon locked up in wet peat. Carbon is also stored in organic rich soils, especially those under grasslands and woodlands. For decades, The Wildlife Trusts have pioneered peatland restoration and sustainably managed woodlands and grassland meadows. This work continues, thanks to our supporters, helping in the fight against climate change.
Like peatlands and grasslands, intertidal saltmarsh provides an important carbon store in its soils. Saltmarshes also act as a buffer against coastal erosion – although this and rising sea levels is leading to the loss of this habitat, with only 15% of its historic range remaining.
These aquatic flowering plants are responsible for around 10% of all carbon buried in the ocean, despite covering less than 0.2% of the ocean floor. They store carbon 35 times faster than rainforests, but estimates suggest that globally we are losing an area of seagrass the size of two football pitches every hour.
As they grow, trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere, storing it in their trunk, boughs and roots and as organic ma er in woodland soils. So, new woodland creation – through natural regeneration for example – helps to combat climate change.
Peatlands cover just 3% of the earth’s surface, but store more carbon than any other habitat on land (more than twice the carbon of all the world’s forests put together). But when damaged, as in the UK, they release carbon, contributing to climate change – so restoration is essential.
Urban greenspaces help make cities better in a world that’s getting hotter. Young street trees take up carbon dioxide and urban woodlands help control the local climate by providing shade and reducing the street temperature. Pleasant greenspaces can also encourage people to walk and cycle rather than jump in a car!
Healthy grassland soaks up and stores carbon in its roots and the soil. Grasslands that are undisturbed by arable agriculture and protected from soil erosion through sustainable management are important stores. Yet in the UK, we’ve lost 97% of our semi-natural grasslands and they continue to be at risk.
Seaweed and kelp forests
Kelp grows incredibly quickly, sucking up carbon as it does. These underwater forests provide critical short-term carbon stores. When they die, bits of kelp sink into the deep sea, where they remain for a long time.
Phytoplankton – miniscule marine algae – absorb carbon as they grow. When they die, some of the carbon they’ve taken up sinks to the ocean floor, where it can remain for thousands of years.
We need to put nature into recovery so that the natural world can cope with the climate and nature crisis. Find out more about what this means here.
You can also read about Avon Wildlife Trust's work to restore carbon-storing peatland in their North Somerset Levels and Moors project.