Capturing carbon

Geese coming in to roost on Blakeney Freshes

Research we've commissioned shows that almost three-quarters of essential nature habitats in our care are at the greatest risk from climate change.

Not only do these landscapes support a variety of wildlife they also store and capture carbon emissions.

The Custodians of Carbon report, conducted by 3Keel, found that the heathland, woodland, rivers, fens and saltmarsh landscapes are already showing signs of damage from soaring temperatures, storms, droughts, rising sea levels, and flooding.  

These areas not only support an incredible array of wildlife, including natterjack toads, otters, mountain hares and butterflies, they also lock up thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases every year. 

Patrick Begg, Director of Natural Resources at the National Trust, said: 'We’ve known for a long time that places that are good for nature are good for the climate too – but we’re now able to see exactly which of our habitats are providing the biggest benefit, and which need restoring to prevent emissions leaking into the atmosphere.'

Trees at Harewoods Outwood Surrey

What we're doing to help 

As part of our 125th-anniversary celebrations this year, we've unveiled plans to plant 20 million trees in ten years and reach carbon net-zero by 2030. Woodland creation on this scale would lock up 296,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to the annual output of 37,000 homes.

Custodians of carbon
Thorneythwaite valley with Thorneythwaite feel on the left, Borrowdale

Borrowdale, Cumbria

Atlantic oak woodland is one of the most important habitats for rare carbon-absorbing species of mosses and lichens in Europe. We look after 500 hectares of this kind of woodland in Borrowdale Valley, Lake District.

Blakeney at sunset

Blakeney National Nature Reserve

The four-mile-long shingle spit of Blakeney Point not only offers protection for Blakeney Harbour, it is also home to a vast array of wildlife, including terns and grey seals. Like many parts of the coast, it's under threat from climate change and is already experiencing the effects of sea-level rises.

Wicken Fen - Sunset over Sedge Fen

Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire

Wicken Fen is the oldest nature reserve in our care, and last year we celebrated its 120th anniversary. These precious fenland landscapes are not only home to thousands of plants and animals, but they also lock up carbon. We've created more wetlands by using excess flood water from the river during the winter. This helps to lock away as much as 80 per cent of the carbon stored in the peat.

Poole Harbour, Dorset

There are at least nine separate areas of saltmarsh vegetation across Poole Harbour, which is home to rare invertebrates, including the plant bug Orthotylus rubidus and the hairy shore bug Saldula setulosa. These areas also support a huge variety of birdlife, including waders and overwintering wildfowl. Saltmarshes are also good at tackling climate change, locking away around 1,663 tonnes of carbon every year. 

But this precious landscape is already declining, potentially because of increased nitrogen levels, damage caused by sika deer and the formation of an algal mat within the harbour. Climate change will only make things worse. 

Our rangers will also need to work hard to mitigate the effects of more storms, which will increase coastal erosion and lead to rising sea levels, reducing the space available for saltmarsh to colonise.  Hard sea boundaries on the urban, eastern shore of the harbour increase the importance of both Studland and Middlebere, where soft boundaries will allow saltmarsh to move inland as sea levels rise.

" “As the condition of a river, a fen or a marsh degrades, its vulnerability to climate change increases, so it’s crucial that we look after these habitats. They are our natural armour in the fight against climate change.” "
- Patrick Begg, director of natural resources, National Trust
Runnymede, Surrey

Runnymede, Surrey

The ponds at Runneymede are teeming with life. Between May and September, you'll a variety of dragonflies and damselflies. But this unique wetland habitat vulnerable to climate change, and our rangers are having to adapt the way they manage land due to ongoing drought well after the summer is over. The upper pond area is often completely dry for several months. We're looking at ways to divert alternative water into the pond during the summer and aim to save water during the winter.

Custodians of carbon report: key findings

  • Amount of land surveyed by report 101,000 hectares
  • Proportion of sensitive habitats found at the coast 80 per cent
  • Amount of key land in our care sensitive to climate change 73 per cent
What we're calling for

We know that more must be done to look after nature and tackle the climate crisis. This is why we're working hard to understand how our land can contribute to the UK's net-zero carbon emissions target. We're also calling for the government to take the following actions: 

  • Support further research to better understand how restoring nature can help to achieve the UK’s net-zero target.
  • Make sure that new strategies for restoring habitats (such as those for tree-planting or peatland restoration) are designed to achieve net-zero emissions.
  • Ensure that natural climate solutions are delivered hand in hand with maximising emissions cuts in other sectors.
  • Make sure that new policy frameworks and funding, including a new agricultural system,prioritise and reward measures that help nature and the climate.
  • Create and support partnerships between the public, private and third sectors to work together on the ground.
Help us tackle climate change

Whether you become a National Trust member, enjoy a coffee in our cafés, donate to one of our appeals, or volunteer, you'll be helping us care for precious landscapes and the wildlife that depend on them.  You can also get involved with your local conservation groups.

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