Organisations which care for 10.5m acres of England sign climate and nature pact

·3 min read

Landowners and organisations which care for more than a third of England’s land have signed a pact to jointly tackle the climate and nature crises.

Farmers, estates, charities and other bodies say they will work together to ensure natural resources such as peat bogs, woodland and rivers are managed effectively to tackle the climate crisis and help adapt to its impacts, and meet national targets to cut emissions to zero overall – or “net zero”.

The organisations, which are involved in managing more than 10.5 million acres of countryside, have pledged to cut emissions, create and restore habitats for wildlife and carbon storage, and work with local communities to care for landscapes and deliver benefits for people.

Major landowner the National Trust has brought together the likes of the Duchy of Cornwall, the Church Commissioners for England, National Parks England, the RSPB, the Woodland Trust and the Wildlife Trusts for the pact.

Tree planting in the Peak District (National Trust/PA)
Tree planting in the Peak District (National Trust/PA)

Norfolk’s Holkham Estate, Yorkshire Water, the Soil Association and the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) of farmers as well as National Parks England and the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (NAAONB) have also signed up.

The pact stresses the importance of actively cutting emissions through shifting towards renewable energy, using electric vehicles, cutting agricultural pollution and making buildings more energy efficient, alongside natural solutions such as planting trees and restoring peat.

Those “nature-based” solutions cannot be used to neutralise all the harmful emissions currently released and must be accompanied by efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, it says.

The organisations have also written to Environment Secretary George Eustice setting out the measures they are taking.

These include the Duchy of Cornwall enhancing biodiversity across its estates by 30% by 2030 and Yorkshire Water’s bid to cut operational emissions to net zero by 2030 and plant a million trees in the county by 2028.

Targets also include pledges by the NAAONBs to create and restore at least 100,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside protected areas and plant or regenerate 36,000 hectares of woodland as part of their efforts.

The National Trust aims to be net zero and plant and establish 20 million trees by 2030, and the national parks are developing an action programme with moves to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change on a landscape scale.

National Trust director general Hilary McGrady said: “We saw at Cop26 what can be achieved to solve complex and deep-rooted climate challenges when people 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 of tackling its causes and effects.”

Dams in the gullies on the blanket peat on the High Peak Estate to help restore the landscape (National Trust/PA)
Dams in the gullies on the blanket peat on the High Peak Estate to help restore the landscape (National Trust/PA)

Ms McGrady said the Government’s advisory Climate Change Committee had been clear that a transformation in the way land was used was needed to help meet the net zero targets.

“Only by working together will we be able to lock up enough carbon in the English countryside to meet the Government’s ambition for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and prepare our cherished landscapes and nature for the worsening impacts of climate change,” she said.

In England, the Government has ambitions to scale up woodland creation and protect thousands of acres of peatland to reduce climate emissions, and to protect 30% of the country’s land by 2030.

Much of the land already considered protected is in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) which are landscape designations, where nature groups warn wildlife is not sufficiently safeguarded.

Some of those signing up to the pact – agreed following a one-day summit at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire held ahead of the Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow – have also faced criticism from environmentalists for their land management and a lack of tree cover.

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