Rewilding: Organisations which own a third of England’s land sign pact to boost biodiversity and tackle climate crisis

The National Trust’s Seven Sisters country park in East Sussex (Getty)
The National Trust’s Seven Sisters country park in East Sussex (Getty)

A swathe of England’s biggest land owners and managers have signed a joint pact committing them to large-scale habitat restorations and a major tree-planting programme across a portfolio of 10.5 million acres, to help boost biodiversity and tackle the worsening climate crisis.

The effort, coordinated by the National Trust, includes groups such as the RSPB, National Parks, Soil Association, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, Church Commissioners for England and the Duchy of Cornwall, which together own around a third of the land in England.

The organisations have said they will work together to protect and regenerate environments such as peat bogs, woodland and rivers, to help draw down carbon and provide functioning ecosystems in order to help the UK’s legally binding goal of reaching net zero by 2050.

The deal was agreed following a one-day summit at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate in October, which was attended by Defra’s climate adaptation minister Jo Churchill.

The trust said some of the ways “land can be used responsibly” to tackle the climate crisis include a focus on creating more woodland, restoring and protecting peatlands to capture carbon, reconnecting rivers and preventing flooding as well as the management of coastal erosion.

The National Trust’s director general Hilary McGrady said: “While by no means perfect, we saw recently at Cop26 what can be achieved when parties work together. Healing climate harm is something we are all united in and only by pulling together, sharing our expertise and experience will we have any chance at tackling all its effects.

“This demonstrates what can be done at ground level to tackle the climate change threat, restore nature, and ensure the future health and wellbeing of the landscapes we all love.”

She added: “The UK’s Climate Change Committee is clear that ‘a transformation in the use of land’ is needed if we are to meet our Net Zero target. Those who have signed up to these principles have the power to lead that transformation.

Signatories to the pact have also sent a letter to the environment secretary George Eustice stating their own practical commitments on how they plan to restore their land and tackle the climate crisis.

The Duchy of Cornwall said its aims include enhancing biodiversity across its estates by 30 per cent by 2030 and Yorkshire Water said it would cut operational emissions to net zero by 2030 and plant a million trees across the county by 2028.

The National Trust has set out plans to become a net zero emissions organisation by 2030 and will plant and establish 20 million trees by the same year.

Meanwhile the national parks said they are developing an action programme with moves to reduce emissions and adapt to the climate crisis on a landscape scale.

The six climate and nature-based solutions that all the organisations have signed up to are:

  1. Take meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change to ensure a net gain in carbon sequestration.

  2. Create or restore homes for wildlife that support nature’s recovery and provide long term biodiversity increases

  3. Be designed, implemented and managed in consultation with local communities, taking into account past, present and future landscape character

  4. Facilitate opportunities to deliver benefits for people at a local and a national level, such as access to nature and green job generation

  5. Consider the location, ecology and surrounding landscape to ensure multiple benefits, such as carbon sequestration and flood management.

  6. Be future-proofed and adaptively managed so they are climate resilient for generations to come.

Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s chief executive said: “Nature can play an important role not only in limiting the impact of climate change on our lives but also in capturing and storing carbon and helping to reduce our emissions.

“Restoring our environment and the wildlife that lives there delivers a double whammy of tackling the climate and nature crises together.”

Andrew McCloy, chair of National Parks England, said: “We are already seeing the impact of the climate emergency across our National Parks and have been working hard to achieve significant change at pace and scale through our nature recovery projects and partnerships.

“The Net Zero with Nature strategy defines the role that the National Parks will play in the UK’s fight against climate change and the biodiversity crisis and solidifies our commitment to working across boundaries to create real change, fast.”

John Weir, Head of Real Estate at the Church Commissioners, said: “The two pillars that underpin our approach to responsible investment are respect for people and respect for the planet. The devastating impact climate change is having on both humanity and the natural environment is clear for all to see, and this requires the private and third sectors working closely with government to create a world that is greener, healthier and safer.

“As an organisation with significant land holdings, we have the potential to leverage our natural assets to deliver positive social and environmental outcomes while still fulfilling our fiduciary duties for the Church.”

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