Natural England study finds that UK’s peatlands hold eight times more carbon compared to equivalent area of rainforest

April 21st 2021

A major new study by researchers from Natural England reviewed carbon storage impact from England’s habitats including; native woodlands, saltmarshes, grasslands, heathlands and peatlands. The research is being undertaken as part of efforts to help the UK hit net zero by 2050.

The findings, summarised:

  • New native woodlands can support biodiversity at the same time as taking up carbon. Old woodlands can become substantial carbon stores, with a hectare of native woodland sequestering the equivalent CO2 each year as flying London to Rome 13 times.
  • Saltmarshes can be highly effective carbon stores, as well as helping coasts adapt to future climate change. One hectare of saltmarsh each year buries the carbon equivalent of an average car’s annual carbon emissions.
  • Orchards and hedgerows are effective at storing significant amounts of carbon but generally cover a smaller area than other habitats and are cut regularly, limiting the amount of carbon gain.
  • Peatlands are the largest carbon stores. When in a healthy condition they soak up carbon slowly but can go on doing so indefinitely. Carbon held in the deep peat soils of fens and raised bogs hold eight times as much carbon as the equivalent area of tropical rainforest.
  • Heathlands and grasslands store more carbon than modern agricultural landscapes but less than peatlands, saltmarsh and old woodlands.

Dr Ruth Gregg, Senior Specialist for Climate Change at Natural England, and lead author of the report, said:

Our natural and wild places will play a crucial role in tackling the climate crisis. This study gives the most complete picture of the impact of habitats around us in delivering carbon storage and sequestration. As well as highlighting the well-known importance of carbon stores such as peatland and woodland, we now have a much better understanding of the full impact of other habitats such as hedgerows and saltmarshes, and how we should manage these going forward.

Not only do our habitats capture carbon, but they provide many other benefits for biodiversity and the wellbeing of society. For habitat creation and restoration to achieve its full potential in helping the UK achieve net zero by 2050 we need to act now, basing decisions on robust science and taking a strategic approach. This report will support Natural England, the government, and environmental organisations across the country to do just that.