Natural England climate change demands
Defra’s UK Climate Programme is now forecasting average summer increases of up to 40C by 2080 for southern England, accompanied by increases of 5.4C in peak summer temperatures and a 22 per cent reduction in rainfall.
Helen Phillips, Natural England’s Chief Executive warned: “The latest government forecasts should serve as a wake-up call – we are looking at a life-changing alteration in our climate that has no parallel in recent human history. Protecting the natural environment is essential if society is to successfully adapt to these changes.”
Phillips added: “In the face of the challenges presented by climate change, we have to allow natural processes within the environment to function. We cannot rely on technology or on building our way out of trouble. The critical services that a healthy environment delivers – like carbon capture, coastal defence, clean water, clean air or healthy, productive soils – must be allowed to operate unimpeded and undamaged to a much greater degree than they have been able to in recent years.”
Practical examples of this approach include the protection and improvement of the condition of the UK’s peatbogs, now seen as fundamental to reducing carbon emissions. Peatbogs are the most important store of carbon in the UK – storing more than all the forests of Germany and France combined. Similarly, saltmarsh protects hundreds of miles of the British coastline at no cost and the flood control and storm buffering benefits provided by coastal habitats like saltmarsh and sand dunes have been estimated at over £1 billion per year. Urban green spaces help cool surrounding built-up areas by up to 4oC. Upland rivers can increase the supply of fresh drinking water – vital given the projected decrease in rainfall.
Natural England has already conducted research into how landscapes are likely to change and identify the most appropriate forms of management to enable wildlife and habitats to adapt. The research suggests that in places such as the Dorset Downs or Cranborne Chase, for example, it may be necessary to plant drought-tolerant native trees to replace the much-loved beech trees that are likely to be an early casualty of climate change. In the Cumbria High Fells there is an urgent need to improve the condition of existing upland habitats and water resources.
Information and PDF copies of Natural England’s Character Area reports can be found here
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