Exploring the carbon sequestration potential of rewilding in the UK: policy and data needs to support net zero
This report synthesises the current policy, technical considerations and debate pertaining to rewilding in the UK, with a focus on what contribution, if any, rewilded land can make to supporting the decarbonisation of land use. The provision of other environmental, biodiversity and social benefits across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is also considered.
- Rewilding is an approach within nature restoration that recognises the intrinsic value of nature and wild spaces when restoring degraded ecosystems. Rewilding leads to the establishment of natural ecological processes at scale and supports ecosystems to become self-sustaining, self-organising and resilient. These benefits are significant and worthy of prioritisation in their own right.
- Current UK environmental strategy and policy focuses on sustainable land use and nature restoration. Rewilding does not currently explicitly feature in post-Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) agri-environmental policy developments in any UK region.
- Some habitats (woodland or peatland) that develop at defined steps within a rewilding transition are represented in the UK’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
- Carbon flux data for successional habitats such as species-rich grassland, heathland, scrub and scattered forest, along with coastal sea grass and salt marsh, are not yet of sufficient quality to be included in the Greenhous Gas Inventory or in other net zero pathways.
- Rewilding can support achievement of the net zero target through its contributions to carbon sequestration and emissions reduction. It can also protect and improve resilience of existing ecosystems alongside providing benefits for nature and the wider environment.
- Current evidence gaps mean that the full spectrum of rewilding transitions are not represented in national greenhouse gas abatement plans. Greater understanding of the interaction between rewilding and wider ecosystem-service delivery is needed.
- Policymakers should support work to improve the evidence base relating to carbon flux from rewilded land.
- The Government should consider using the definition of rewilding currently being set out by expert communities. The Government and conservation agencies should then develop region- and habitat-specific guidance to reflect landscape responses to rewilding interventions.
- Central government and the devolved administrations should increase the level of detail in existing Greenhouse Gas Inventory categories to reflect the real impacts of land use change that results from ecosystem restoration and conservation approaches.
- Central government and the devolved administrations should clarify to landowners what tools are appropriate for determining natural capital baselines and consider nominating or creating an organisation to capture and manage carbon and greenhouse gas flux data (and wider socioeconomic and ecological data) from nature restoration projects.
- The Government needs to ensure that access to rewilding incentives is fair and supports a just transition in rural communities, including recognising the importance of continued food production.
- Central government and the devolved administrations should incentivise rewilding, including by promoting connectivity across all landscape types where appropriate, not just the uplands.