Flooding and climate change: invest to save, urges National Trust

Flooding and climate change: invest to save, urges National Trust

14 March 2008

published by www.guardian.co.uk

United Kingdom — The public and private sectors must invest new money in land management in the UK to meet the challenges of climate change and flooding, a new report urged today.

Investment now will save public money later in tackling the problems of climate change, flooding, water pollution and poor health, according to the report from the National Trust, which aims to highlight the importance of land management in addressing climate change and flooding.

The trust has based the recommendations for its report, Nature’s Capital, on its practical experiences as the largest non-governmental landowner in the UK, managing over 250,000 hectares, 80% of which is farmed.

The current markets in water and carbon are inadequate and do not invest in these assets, the report said, and the level of investment in land for its role in promoting health and wellbeing is too small. New sources of investment are needed, the report said.

Chelmorton in Derbyshire
Projects tackling peat degradation in Derbyshire should help improve water quality. Photo: Don McPhee

There is great potential for creative measures to pay farmers and land managers for providing these services, the report continues. Such measures would also increase biodiversity and an enhanced landscape.

“Encouraging management techniques and land-use changes that deliver multiple benefits for the environment, society and economy, will also mean that future investment could buy far greater public benefits than is currently possible, making the most of every pound spent on the environment,” the report said.

The report set out the case for investment in clean water, flood risk mitigation, carbon stewardship and access to green space for health and wellbeing.

It said water companies should invest in land management to improve the quality of drinking water at source. This would deliver cleaner water downstream, reduce the need for expensive and energy intensive treatment, and deliver additional environmental and social benefits.

The trust report cited an example of the upland peat bogs in Derbyshire, which have been damaged by overgrazing, pollution, drought and fire. It said that a partnership of public, private and voluntary organisations has been working together across the whole catchment area to tackle the root causes of peat degradation. The project is expected to improve poor water quality.

The report called for a larger proportion of the government’s £800m flood risk budget to be spent on managing land in a way that makes space for water, rather than just spending the money on hard engineering and flood defences. This change of policy would help to reduce the risk of flooding downstream and take into account the impact of climate change and the affects of extreme weather, the trust said.

“Unless a new, more strategic approach to flood risk is adopted, flood risk management will require more and more expensive (and carbon intensive) hard defences,” the report warned.

The trust said is has been exploring sustainable water and land management techniques to combat flash flooding alongside the Environment Agency and the University of Durham at Upper Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales.

“A range of measures, including blocking moorland grips, wetland creation, woodland planting and ‘soft’ engineering of the river course to return it to a more natural state, have all helped to make space for water in Upper Wharefdale, with benefits for biodiversity and water quality, as well as reducing the risk of flooding,” the report said.

Losses of carbon from soil can be reduced by extending carbon markets to provide financial incentives for investment in land-based carbon, such as peat bogs, the report recommended.

The rate of CO2 emission from eroded peat bogs is a matter growing concern for scientists: Britain’s peat bogs are thought to store 3 billion tonnes of of carbon – the equivalent of 20 years of UK CO2 emissions. The report said that UK peatlands could emit up to 381,000 tonnes of carbon a year if not managed appropriately.

It warned: “This enormous, natural carbon capture and storage system is under threat from past and present land use. Put simply, if peatlands are in good condition they absorb and store carbon – as well as delivering a host of other benefits such as water quality, flood amelioration, biodiversity and landscape. In bad condition they can release this carbon back into the atmosphere.”

The trust says it is carrying out an audit of its Wallington estate in Northumberland to assess the amount of carbon stored in its soil and biomass, and how much is emitted through day-to-day operations. An essential part of this project will be to restore and conserve the carbon banks, it said.

The report also called for more NHS and Primary Care Trust (PCT) funding to be allocated to green exercise programmes. Getting more people out into local green spaces would tackle obesity and improve their health and wellbeing, the trust said.

“There are potentially very significant cost savings for PCTs in more widely recognising green exercise as a clinically valid treatment option for mental and physical ill health,” the report stated.

The trust said it was working in partnership with the Doncaster & Bassetlaw PCT and the Bassetlaw council to provide opportunities for guided health walks at the trust’s Clumber Park property in Nottinghamshire.

Tony Burton, the director of policy and strategy at the National Trust, said: “With a changing climate and rising demands for new built development, the pressure on land is increasing. We need to harness new sources of investment and new partnerships to realise the potential of our land to help tackle flooding, climate change and the supply of clean water and green spaces for the benefit of us all.”

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