Lancashire wildlife's vital role in saving environment

What Government plans to ‘build back greener’ after the pandemic what means for Lancashire's wildlife

Friday, 21st May 2021, 3:45 pm

We are facing dual climate and biodiversity crises.

The world is now nearly one degree hotter than it was before widespread industrialisation, and in the UK alone 41 per cent of our species are facing a decline in numbers.

Clearly, we need to take action to tackle these issues now, before it’s too late. So, when it was announced that the government were going to share new plans to help support nature’s recovery and steer us further towards our net zero targets, here at Lancashire Wildlife Trust we waited with baited breath.

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Cotton grass on Rivington Moor’s upland peatland Photo: Rich Burkmarr

Of particular interest was the release of the England Peat Action Plan, which we had been waiting for since December 2018.

Our region has large amounts of both upland and lowland peat, but unfortunately the vast majority of it is in a degraded state, with only two per cent of our once extensive lowland raised peat bogs remaining.

Sometimes peat can be a little forgotten about when we think about tackling the climate emergency and supporting biodiversity, but in fact it is one of the superheroes of the natural world.

Globally peatlands cover only about three per cent of land, but they store twice as much carbon as all of the world’s forest combined. And what’s more, when they are in a healthy condition, peatlands continue to absorb carbon from the atmosphere locking it away in their peaty soils for millennia.

Alan Wright is campaigns and communications manager at the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside

However, as soon as a peatland is damaged in any way, that carbon gets released contributing to climate change.

And damaged so many of Lancashire’s peatlands are. Swathes of blanket bog carpeting the Forest of Bowland and the West Pennine Moors are degraded due to drainage, overgrazing or management as grouse moors.

Chat Moss which once covered thousands of hectares of Greater Manchester has been lost to extraction for use in horticulture, historically for fuel, or conversion to agricultural land.

Winmarleigh Moss Site of Special Scientific Interest, near Garstang, is probably our region’s best surviving example of a lowland raised peat bog, but even that is only classed as ‘recovering’ – although we’re working hard to get that to ‘recovered’.

Little Woolden Moss Photo: Standby Productions

So, welcome news came with the announcement of a consultation this summer to set a date for the banning of the sales of peat for domestic horticulture before the end of this parliament in 2024.

In the UK alone, we use 2m cubic metres of peat in our gardens every year, whether that’s in the bags of compost or the potted plants that we buy.

Lancashire Wildlife Trust has been campaigning for a total ban on peat use in horticulture for years now, and so it’s great to see that we’re finally getting a step closer to that aim.

We just hope that the ban is soon and is very swiftly followed by a ban for commercial growers too. We were also pleased to hear that £50m will be invested into the restoration of 35,000 hectares of peatlands in England.

Warton Cragg Woods Photo: Lancashire Wildlife Trust

Again, welcome news, but there’s more peat than that in Yorkshire alone that is in need of restoration, so we will be fighting hard to make sure than Lancashire get’s a slice of the action.

But it’s not just peat. The England Tree Action Plan was also announced, promising a whopping £500m to spend on tripling current woodland creation plans. Note that this is woodland creation, not just tree planting. Whilst shoving a few saplings in the ground is all well and good, allowing woodland to naturally regenerate, ensures that native species grow where they naturally would and this provides a much more readily accessible habitat for the amazing wildlife that relies on woodlands as it’s home.

So we will be keeping a close eye on exactly how much natural regeneration is prioritised. However, where the announcements really seemed to fall down for us was the lack of mention of supporting our amazing coastal and marine environments.

We are an island nation, and Lancashire is blessed with an amazing coastline of varied habitats. From sand dunes to salt marshes, and mud flats to heathlands, these environments are just as important for nature, and also for climate change. Barnaby’s Sands and Burrows Marsh, near Knott End, is a rare but thriving salt marsh, a habitat classed as highly sensitive to climate change.

But, just one hectare of saltmarsh can absorb up to eight tonnes of CO² per year, the same as charging a million smartphones. Seagrass is another wonder habitat. It can absorb carbon from the atmosphere 35 times faster than tropical rainforests, but has been declining globally at a rate of about seven per cent a year since 1990. It is also home to a myriad amazing marine life, such as seahorses and sea snails.

So, while every bit of funding helps, and every step we take closer to banning peat from our gardens is a win, there’s still a long way to go. Nature is here working hard for us every day. But we have to let it.

The climate and biodiversity crises are fundamentally linked. We cannot solve one without the other. We need stronger and more binding targets set now, not after yet more consultation, to put the positive steps announced this week into action. We need to support nature to support us. We got it wrong. But nature can help us to fix it.

Alan Wright is campaigns and communications manager at the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside