Climate change: the greatest challenge to the Trust

Climate change is the greatest threat to the places that we care for. In fact, we may not have faced so great a threat since the Trust was founded almost 125 years ago. Perhaps nowhere have we seen this play out more clearly to date than at the coast. At places like the Llyn Peninsula in Wales, or Birling Gap in East Sussex, the brute power of nature is something we have begun to learn to work with.

But the challenges of climate change are rapidly bearing down right across the Trust, from our historic buildings, to the wildlife we care for, to our ability to welcome people to our places. From heatwaves to high winds our properties and their teams are increasingly dealing with the impacts of extreme weather. The MET Office says that heatwaves like 2018’s are now 30 times more likely due to climate change. Farmers across the country, including tenants on our land, know only too well that low rainfall is an increasingly likely and unwelcome pressure that climate change is bringing.

The State of Nature reports have provided conclusive evidence that climate change is one of the greatest challenges for wildlife in the UK. Butterflies like the Northern Brown Argus or birds like the dotterel, are increasingly precarious and restricted as the specialised conditions they rely on disappear.

A male Northern Brown Argus male in June at Arnside Knott, Cumbria. They prefer sheltered habitats, frequently with scrub and patches of bare ground such as; sand dunes, quarries, coastal valleys and steep slopes.

We’re proud members of public climate change campaigns

The Extinction Rebellion protests and the school climate strikes have shown that there is significant public attention and appetite for talking about climate change; and for hearing loud and clear what governments and organisations are doing about it. Parliament’s vote last night in favour of declaring a climate emergency shows that many politicians want urgent action.

We’re proud to be members of The Climate Coalition – now over 150 organisations strong – and to be supporting The Time Is Now event on 26 June. We’ll be working with other organisations to gather thousands of people at Parliament to talk to their politicians about the challenge of climate change. Politicians’ help could be critical to securing changes to the Agriculture and Environment Bills that take a net zero emissions target into account.

Working with others - Formby, Liverpool, the fastest eroding place in the Trust's care. We're developing a coastal adaption strategy and involving the local community at every stage of our plans. Credit Joe Cornish.

Dunes under threat from coastal erosion at Formby. (Credit: NT/ Joe Cornish)

The National Trust will play its part on the UK’s path to net zero emissions

We think the Climate Change Act and the Committee on Climate Change provide a strong framework for how the UK should approach dealing with the threat of climate change. Their rigorous evidence base  – and transparency in making the information public – need to be the basis for how decisions by local and national government are made.

So we strongly welcome the Committee on Climate Change’s formal advice, published today, that the UK should aim for net zero emissions by 2050. The UK needs to increase its ambition to play its part in limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C. In turn, we’ll play our part in the UK achieving net zero emissions.

We’re going to continue to build on our deployment of renewable energy at our places – last year we made our 50th installation. One of the biggest contributions the Trust can make is through ’natural climate solutions’. Next week’s global biodiversity report, put together by over 500 scientists from 50 countries, will conclude that tackling the nature crisis and the climate crisis go hand in hand.

Our Snowdon hydro weir by the Watkin Path at Hafod y Llan farm (Credit: National Trust / John Millar)

By protecting existing carbon stores – like peatlands, mudflats and woodlands – and by creating new ones. These can provide wins hand over fist for people, nature and the climate. Our target to restore and create 25,000 hectares of space for nature by 2025 will be a significant contribution to tacking climate change. We’re currently working to put a figure on the quantity of greenhouse gases that will be locked away by this.

In the Upper Conwy catchment in North Wales, blocking the drainage ditches on the peatland is bringing it back to good health: its superpower to hold water, store vast amounts of carbon, and support special wildlife like curlews and golden plovers is being restored. The UK’s peatlands are in terrible health – only a quarter of them are being looked after properly – and this poor health means they are now a major contributor to climate change, responsible for about 6% of the UK’s overall emissions. But peatlands in good health can store vast amounts of carbon. The National Trust can play a key part in achieving this through restoring the peatlands we own and working with others beyond our boundaries.

Public money for the new agricultural system needs to reward other landowners to undertake these measures. Meanwhile we’re working with Green Alliance to show that private money could reward this too, through new markets for ecosystem services like carbon storage or reduced flood risk.

Wardens working on the blanket peat on the High Peak Estate, in the Peak District National Park, Derbyshire. The peatland is in poor condition and is undergoing significant erosion through pollution and earlier inefficient land management practices. The National Trust has found that one of the best ways of preserving the peat is to “re-wet” it by blocking the gullies that have been created in the past.

We know where we’re going even if we don’t know how to get there

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was clear in 2018. We have under 12 years to avoid temperature rises of 1.5C. This means setting off on the journey to net zero emissions now, and fast, even though we don’t have all the answers.

Some of the biggest challenges for the UK and for the Trust are emissions from farming, heating and transport. But we’re up for the challenge and for working with others to find solutions. The path to net zero emissions is untrodden. But we are walking it shoulder to shoulder with many businesses, local councils, cities and countries.

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