But as we look up to the treetops for climate solutions, some activists are urging the world to look down to where another answer lies – right under our feet.
“Whether you are looking at the Serengeti, the Cerrado in Brazil, whether you are looking at what remains of the grasslands of North America or the steppes of Mongolia, each of our key iconic grassland habitats is currently under threat. Ian Dunn, chief executive of UK conservation organization Plantlife, told CNN.
There are also many in the UK, which will welcome world leaders and climate negotiators in just over a week to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland. Among several items on the agenda are how to protect forests and plant more trees to help reduce global emissions.
As leaders meet in the Scottish town, Plantlife works to restore more than 100,000 hectares of grassland, including one on the other side of the UK, in the English south of the county of Kent.
Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve is like your typical English corner of the countryside, with rolling hills and pastures. The grass here looks ordinary, brown in patches from the fall weather. But in spring, the rare orchids, bellflowers and cistus will bloom to celebrate the biodiversity of this meadow.
Restoring species-rich ecosystems like this takes time, said Ben Sweeney, manager of Ranscombe Farm, who has worked on the grassland since 2010.
“It will take a few decades,” he said.
Ranscombe Farm not only protects grasslands, but also woods, pastures and fields of crops for rare plants.
Sweeney explains that, just like with an animal sanctuary, Ranscombe Farm grows rare plants in small sections of the reserve, where they thrive, and can hopefully grow and expand into larger habitats soon.
But even after years of careful management, rangers have not been able to reverse all of the impacts agriculture and land degradation have had on the site.
This concerns activists, as grasslands not only store carbon, but also act as a buffer against extreme weather conditions and help prevent soil erosion. Their roots hold back the light soil, and the ground cover prevents erosion from wind and water. These habitats contribute to natural flood management by retaining water after extreme weather events and then releasing it gradually.
The loss of grassland also threatens important species that depend on it, such as bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
“But they are pretty much ignored or have been ignored in many sustainability policies,” said Richard Bardgett, soil scientist and professor of ecology, and lead researcher on the study.
Your diet could be linked to the destruction of grasslands
A global increase in demand for meat and dairy products, as well as soybeans, is putting pressure on grasslands.
In China, vast expanses of grassland are in a “state of ecological crisis”, according to scientists, caused by overgrazing of the land. Meanwhile, in the United States, expanding farmland has led the Great Plains prairies to lose an average of four football fields per minute, according to a WWF report released in 2020.
While protecting grasslands is a global concern, the UK is increasingly expected to show climate leadership ahead of COP26.
Campaigners are disappointed with the omission of grasslands as a nature-based solution in the government’s Net Zero strategy, which is seen as a potential model for other countries’ climate roadmaps.
“The importance of grasslands in carbon capture, improved biodiversity, sustainable food production, water management and societal well-being continues to go unnoticed in this report and in government policy. “said Dunn.
“We have to work on a mosaic of habitats.
Craig Bennett, managing director of The Wildlife Trusts, said the government’s Net Zero strategy had significant flaws and that its government writers “do not appear to have fully recognized the role nature can play.”
There is little new for nature in the strategy, he said.
“Instead, old policies are recycled – and that’s not enough.”
Land restoration policies will be backed by a modest $ 880million (£ 640million) Nature for Climate fund, which had already been announced in the Conservative government’s election manifesto, Bennett points out.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told CNN it was protecting grasslands at some reserve sites in England, launching a pilot program for more sustainable farming practices and awarded more than $ 55 million (£ 40 million) in grants for nature recovery projects.
“Biodiversity loss and climate change are global problems requiring global solutions,” the spokesperson said.
But Defra did not comment when asked if grasslands would be discussed at COP26 and sent quotes on the importance of ending illegal logging in forests as a climate-based solution. nature.
They urge “government ministers to take the opportunity of COP26 in Glasgow to seek international recognition and protections for species-rich grasslands, to lead by example in taking action to mitigate the effects of climate change and increase biodiversity and to ensure that these natural beauty areas are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. “
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