3 habitats in Gwent that are fighting climate change

3 habitats in Gwent that are fighting climate change

Lauri Maclean

There is an ongoing climate emergency as well as a nature emergency, the two are connected far more than we currently understand. What we do know is that we cannot address the climate emergency without addressing the nature emergency as well.

Since joining the team at Gwent Wildlife Trust in August, I’ve been learning a lot about these links. It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that such large scale global goals need to be looked at holistically. We cannot ignore the role of local habitats and ecosystems as well as how each unique animal and plant community supports our fragile planet. The Wildlife Trusts as a movement have been at the forefront of promoting this message for nearly 110 years, but perhaps the natural awakening has, finally, begun!

 

People around the world are starting to listen and put nature at the forefront of this fight. I am somewhat reassured when I look at the news and see that there is at least a reasonable conversation about nature’s relationship to our climate – that’s not to say the conversation is going far enough, there is clearly more that needs to be done and should’ve been done already.

 

It is sadly too late for some of the UK’s already extinct species, with 41% of species currently in decline, all changes are well overdue. So ahead of this year’s COP26 we are going to demonstrate how some of Gwent’s wildlife habitats, alongside our projects, can not only deliver a better, wilder future but also make a noticeable and positive difference to climate change. Here, as an example, are three habitats in Gwent alongside the science and statistics behind the differences they are making.

 

Peatland

Natalie Waller

Overlooked and exploited over the years, more than 94% of the UK’s lowland peat bogs have been destroyed or damaged. A loss of only 5% of UK peatland releases enough carbon to equal the UK’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions. Peatlands are a carbon sink, if well managed then they have amazing abilities to absorb carbon – they can store 10 times more carbon than any other ecosystem, including forests! These amazing properties highlight the importance of peat. We haven’t even mentioned water and flooding yet.

 

The mosses and soil found in peatland have incredible abilities to absorb vast amounts of water, slowing the flow when needed most. This also filters and cleans water; 70% of drinking water consumed across Britain comes from upland regions that are dominated by peatland. Inland waterbodies that include peatland habitats are reckoned to have an economic value of £1.5 billion from the water quality they provide to all of us.

 

The Peatland Restoration Project is working towards restoring 35,000ha of peatlands across Wales. As a partnership with Montgomeryshire, North Wales and the Welsh Wildlife Trusts, we were successful in our application to the Welsh Government's Green Recovery Capacity Building Scheme, and have been busy working on a Wales wide vision for peatlands. The recovery of peatlands across Wales will not only mean great things for carbon sequestration and flood prevention but create a special habitat for species to thrive and recover.

 

Wildflower Meadows

Gemma Bodé

Land management practices have changed drastically over the last century. As a result of this, we have lost 97% of Britain’s wildflower meadows since the 1930s. This kind of habitat loss has influenced huge insect declines, with bumblebee numbers declining by 50%, moths by 41% and butterflies by 57%, since the mid-1970s alone.

 

By some estimates, pollinators contribute £690 million to the economy annually. If we tried to replicate pollinating our crops it would cost about £1.8 billion every year and would likely use fossil fuels and other resources in the process.

 

Wildflower meadows provide more still; hay can provide a staple food to livestock and of course (you’ve guessed it!) carbon sequestration alongside water storage, as a well-managed meadow is never ploughed and is rich with a variety of species all year round.

 

A great example of a well-managed wildflower meadow is at our Pentwyn Farm, now designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. In the wildflower meadow here we’ve found over 80 different species, some of them solely reliable on specific native plants such as Burnet Moth caterpillars on Birdsfoot Trefoil. Wildflower meadows like this are a perfect example of a unique habitat that is beneficial to plants, pollinators and people alike.

 

Gwent Levels

Neil Aldridge

Wetlands provide an important service to many different species, including us humans. The term ‘wetland’ can mean many different types of habitat such as mudflats, bogs, swamps and marshes. The impact that the degradation of the UK’s wetlands is having on our risk to flooding is impossible to ignore.

 

Studies in England have shown that between 1990 and 2015 intensive agriculture occupied around 64% of all floodplains. During the same time period rainfall from extremely wet days actually increased by 17% and is continuing to rise. I notice that this is a common pattern with climate change - a problem getting more frequent and a natural solution becoming rarer.

 

The complex mixture of plants and animals in wetlands can not only store and slow the flow of water, but it can filter out pollutants and bacteria – like kidneys of the earth. Wetlands can absorb organic matter and, if undisturbed, suppress the release of carbon – trapping it underwater.

 

The water in marshes and the areas around it can host some of the most diverse ranges of species seen in the UK. Natural solutions have never been needed more and ecosystems such as the Gwent Levels can help us, as long as they are protected. Projects such as the Living Levels partnership as well as our long-term work at Magor Marsh, show what a difference landscape recovery can make.

 

These are just some examples, that I’ve learnt of, about how nature will look after our planet if we let it. The protection and conservation of Gwent’s wildlife has always been Gwent Wildlife Trust’s primary goal, and that will never change. What we cannot ignore is the impending threat of climate change on our biodiversity and habitats – in the same way that those wanting to prevent a full on climate catastrophe cannot turn their back on the nature based solutions available to us.

 

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