Combatting climate change

Combatting climate change

 

We are in a climate emergency. Climate change impacts everyone and everything, so we must work to secure our future.

 

In the Chilterns, climate change and rising global temperatures affect our ‘natural capital resources’ – our water, soils, air, habitats and species. Climate change is already having a major influence on how plants and animals survive in our landscape. As temperatures increase further, and extreme weather events become more common, it will detrimentally impact our wildlife. We need work to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts.

We are in a climate emergency. Global warming – where the global average temperature rises – is happening at a scary rate, and experts agree that an increase of nearly 3-4oC could be possible by 2100. The biggest culprit of this change is the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, emitted into the atmosphere through human activity like burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees. It is true that the Earth’s climate has seen many changes over billions of years, but climate change today is direct result of the build-up of greenhouse gases from human activity, mainly since the industrial revolution. These gases are trapping the sun’s heat and causing changes in weather patterns, which have a long-lasting and detrimental effect on natural functions and ecosystems.

Climate change impacts every aspect of society, from disaster risk to food security, economy to health and well-being.

In the Chilterns, climate change affects our wildlife habitats and landscapes and our heritage sites.  It needs to be taken into account and planned for in our nature recovery projects and in all areas of our work. When rising temperatures cause species to move differently through the landscapes or to choose different locations to live, we need to make sure they have suitable habitats to go to. When chalk stream water temperatures rise, affecting fish populations who rely on cool water, we need to plan strategies, such as more shading. From farmers to city dwellers, everyone needs to adapt their lives and working practises to lower their carbon emissions.

Taking climate change into account

Nature conservation organisations and government bodies are working to prevent further global temperature rises, as well as to help nature recover and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Mitigation: reducing emissions

To reduce carbon emissions and further global temperature rises, we are being encouraged to reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ (the emissions we create through using electricity and gas) at home and at work. Across the UK, and in the Chilterns, we must work towards Net Zero – a state when the amount of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere is no longer more than what we take out. The government is committed to reaching this target in the UK by 2050. Lowering our carbon emissions and putting measures in place to capture more carbon are the main ways to achieve this. Organisations and individuals are working across the country on all kinds of strategies from using electric vehicles to planting trees, restoring carbon-sinking peat bogs to promoting solar-powered energy for homes.

Projects we support that are helping to mitigate climate change

Here are some examples of current and planned projects that we are supporting that aim to mitigate the effects of climate change. One of the central themes of the Farming in Protected Landscapes grant programme is climate change – farmers are invited to develop projects that lower the carbon footprints of their farms.

One of the central themes of this grant programme is climate change – farmers are invited to develop projects that lower the carbon footprints of their farms. Farmers might choose to create natural areas, such as orchards, hedgerows and ponds, to capture more carbon from the atmosphere, or they might implement better management of grasslands or improve soil health, because healthier soils capture more carbon. These actions also help create bigger, better and more joined up habitats for wildlife across the Chilterns – vital for supporting changes in the movement patterns of wildlife caused by rising global temperatures.

Projects we support that mitigate climate change

Through the Farming in Protected Landscapes Programme and Wessex Farm Wildlife, 10 farms in the Christmas Common Farm Cluster will carry out 1:1 carbon audit sessions. The farmers will then identify their own individual measures for managing the natural habitats on their farms to sequester carbon. This may include improving soil organic matter, improving feed efficiency, and better fertiliser and manure management. Group members will collaborate and share experience to achieve benefits and a joined up approach across the large area of landscape that their farms cover, in the southern part of the Chilterns AONB.

The Central Chilterns Farmer cluster has planted or improved 13.5 kilometres of hedgerow which helps capture carbon, and over 50,000 new hedgerow trees.

Hedgerow planting also alleviates floods, improves air quality and creates wildlife habitats. Read more about the Central Chilterns Farmer Cluster Hedgerow Planting Project.

Farmer Neil Ashby of Ivinghoe Aston Farm is using 3 years of Farming in Protected Landscapes funding to restore and expand a traditional  orchard.

This will include the planting of 353 new fruit trees (200 apple, 17 hazel, 34 quince, 34 gage, 34 plum, 34 pear). As the trees reach maturity, they will sequester carbon at a conservative rate of 10 tonnes an acre per year totalling 140.4 tonnes per year.

The traditional orchard will provide the habitat of the trees themselves but also the low-input grassland surrounding the trees, with huge benefits for biodiversity. This project will have benefits for the landscape, the farm, wildlife, climate change and local people. Read more about Traditional Orchard Restoration at Ivinghoe Aston Farm.

With funding from the Rothschild Foundation, we supported the Central Chilterns Farmer Cluster to carry out farm carbon assessments on each farm using Farm Carbon Toolkits.

Each cluster on the farm is now identifying and putting into place new measures to reduce the carbon footprint of their farms. This has included purchasing seed drills to enable the direct drilling of seed which reduces the number of tractor passes and the carbon emissions this entails, and improves soil health.  Healthy soils sequester carbon, improving the carbon footprint of the farms. Read more about the Farm Carbon Project.

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Farmer Andrew Stubbings surveys his well managed, species rich chalk grassland at Manor Farm

Adaptation: responding to changes and alleviating the impacts

Climate change is here. The world’s temperature has risen by roughly 1°C already and 2021 was the hottest year on record. This extra heat is driving ice and snow melting, extreme weather events like droughts and storms, and changing the composition of habitats. It is estimated that a rise in global temperatures of 4°C will result in the extinction of one in six of all animal and plant species.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Many organisations are working to alleviate the effects of climate change through nature recovery projects and Nature-based Solutions (using the natural systems and functions of ecosystems to solve issues like flooding). Many of these projects work on a landscape-scale to ensure that a whole region or ecosystem is resilient to change and that the wildlife and people within it are safe.

To give wildlife the best chance in the Chilterns, we must enable it to move through the landscape in response to climate change. By providing joined-up habitats and wildlife corridors, we can build species’ resilience, ensuring their survival. The Chilterns Conservation Board is working on several landscape-scale projects to restore natural ecosystem function and aid nature’s recovery. By ensuring our natural systems are working and our natural capital is protected, we ensure our own future.

We are also planning for the impacts of extreme fluctuations in weather events on our rivers, grasslands, woodlands and other habitats. Many of the effects of climate change are, ultimately, unpredictable. By surveying and monitoring our species and habitats, we can determine the best sets of actions to aid recovery and to help people too, whether protecting our food security or preventing downstream flooding. We regularly review our work and the changes we need to make in order to mitigate for climate change.

In addition, all AONBs have signed up to the Colchester Declaration (see below).

The Colchester Declaration

The Colchester declaration is a joint pledge between all the AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) to act to redress declines in species and habitats within the context of a wider response to climate change, and to increase the scale and pace of conservation. This includes creating species action plans for at risk species, creating habitats outside of protected sites to support the natural movement of plants and animals and implementing clear, measurable targets to reach Net Zero.

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Projects we support that help nature and people to adapt to climate change

Road Farm has successfully applied for a Farming in Protected Landscapes grant to introduce a farm wide mob grazing system to further improve soil health, reduce the farm’s carbon balance, reduce inputs and emissions and help make the farm more financially resilient in the long term. Permanent grassland locks in carbon. Supporting landowners and farmers with managing grasslands and woodlands well contributes to mitigating the effects of climate change.

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Grayling, a fish species that is sensitive to changes in water temperature

Chalk Streams and climate change

The River Ver in drought conditions

More frequent droughts caused by climate change cause low water flows in chalk streams, making the water more vulnerable to heating. Some fish species, such as grayling, are particularly sensitive to this. Warmer conditions may favour invasive species to the detriment of native animals, or may provide the conditions needed for more invasive species to arrive. It is usual for parts of chalk streams to dry-up completely during droughts, but this will become an increasingly common occurrence, changing the natural flows and fluctuations of the watercourses. In addition, pollutants in the water, such as sewage or road or agricultural run-off, are more concentrated in low-flow conditions.

Intense rainfall events can cause floods and also wash pollutants, soil and sediment into rivers. This smothers gravels on the stream beds, which are important for fish spawning and invertebrates.

The River Misbourne upstream of Shardleoes

Shading from trees, plants and shrubs can help to keep our chalk streams at the right temperatures, so native planting schemes in the right places can be helpful. Habitat restoration and enhancement forms part of the work of our Chilterns Chalk Streams Project, helping to improve the streams for wildlife and people.

Abstraction for domestic water use needs to be reduced or ceased. We are part of the Chalk Streams First (CSF) scheme, a coalition of conservation and river organisations which proposes an almost complete cessation of abstraction. CSF have proposed the relocation of water extraction to surface water sources in a plan that would restore chalk stream flows, protect the streams’ ecology and resilience to climate change, and ensure the resilience of public water supply.

Read more about wetlands under threat.

Woodlands and climate change

The Chilterns is renowned for its woodland, which covers 23.74% of the AONB. Much of this contains important wildlife and archaeology. 56% is classed as ancient woodland, which has been under constant management for more than 400 years. Trees and woodlands are important ‘carbon sinks’, capturing carbon from the atmosphere and helping offset our carbon emissions. Because of this, deforestation is a major contributor to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions as it removes this carbon sink.

Threats to our woodlands from climate change range from direct habitat loss to more indirect influences, such as providing the right conditions for new or imported diseases and non-native species to take hold. Increasing temperatures are also changing the composition of our habitats, and affecting seasonal events: spring is arriving earlier, so breeding woodland birds are out of sync with food availability; summer drought is stressing trees, causing leaf loss and damage; and trees are susceptible to being blown over in more extreme winter weather events.

To ensure the resilience of our woodlands, protect them as a carbon sink, and to increase carbon capture, it is important that no woodland in the Chilterns is lost to building works or infrastructure. Our Planning Team strives to influence this. One of our Management Plan objectives is to ensure there is no net loss of woodland and no loss of irreplaceable ancient woodland, ancient trees and veteran trees within the AONB. This will help protect woodlands as carbon stores.

The Colchester Declaration, an agreement between all AONBs in the UK, includes a collective promise to increase woodland cover. We always advise that tree planting is carried out with the motto: ‘the right tree in the right place’ – this ensures that tree planting positively contributes to Chilterns’ biodiversity and landscape character at the same time as capturing carbon.

Read more about woodlands under threat.

Grasslands and climate change

A butterfly surrounded by white daisies near HughendenGrasslands are under threat from rising temperatures and extreme weather events. Drought leads to soil degradation and changes in species composition (for instance, plants suited to warmer climes may out-compete more delicate plants), while extreme rainfall and waterlogging increases soil moisture and vegetation growth (particularly stress-tolerant plants). Both pose problems for agricultural production, as well, as the timing and amount of planting, grazing and haymaking, which are integral to the health and composition of many of our grassland habitats, may change with changing conditions.

Initiatives that are carbon-friendly can sometimes have a negative impact on other aspects of wildlife and habitats. For instance, tree-planting in the wrong place, such as on species-rich grasslands, can inadvertently cause damage to these fragile ecosystems.

On the other side of the coin, grasslands are a first line of defence against climate change: the world’s grasslands hold a third of all terrestrial carbon. Well-managed, permanent grassland locks in carbon from the atmosphere, whether this is species-rich chalk grassland with low soil nutrient levels, or intensive grassland (areas where more fertilisers are used). Species-rich grasslands also reduce the impact of climate change by reducing flood risk and soil erosion, and providing food for pollinators. Yet, in the UK alone, more than 97% (3 million ha) of grassland habitats have been lost.

Cows lying in a fieldWe are working with farmers and landowners to improve the management of grasslands to lock-in carbon from the atmosphere. This includes scrub clearance – such as the work our Chalk, Cherries and Chairs project has contributed to – and helping to implement good grazing techniques, such as the ‘mob grazing’ (short duration, high-intensity grazing, with a longer than usual grass recovery period) that will be implemented on Road Farm.

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