A Living Landscape: the bigger picture

A Living Landscape is one of the biggest conservation plans in British history. It will restore natural areas by reassembling damaged and fragmented blocks of woodand, meadows and marshes. It will reconnect the living tissues – the streams and hedges and waysides – that link them to the pockets of wildness in our towns and villages. It will rebuild nature in our midst and put it to work for us. A reinvigorated natural world will become our ally in coping with environmental threats.
Other generations have faced and conquered acute challenges. Polluted water, smog, acid rain: all have had a detrimental effect on wildlife and people, and all, through good science, strategic co-operation and sensible legislation have been tackled. Climate change (linked to intensive development) is our generation’s principle crisis. The impacts are uncertain, but the least we can expect are unpredictable weather with unseasonable winds, flooding and unfamiliar conditions for wildlife. Fortunately, our landscape, if properly refurbished and managed, can help us deal with this.

Capturing the carbon Global warming is the result of a recent build-up of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, forming a blanket that allows the sun’s rays to enter but not to escape back into space. But the CO2 from the fossil fuels we burn can be reabsorbed and stored by the plants in our landscape and the phytoplankton in our oceans. Every woodland and hedgerow we restore, every tree we plant in gardens, streets and parks makes a contribution. Peatlands have an even greater capacity for locking up CO2, and so the value of protecting and restoring these features is evident.

Soaking up the floodwater Flooding is the most conspicuous domestic catastrophe we have attributed to climate change so far. Floods arise less from an increase in water than from how that water is channelled off the land. Huge, compacted or drained fields, dredged, high-speed riverbeds and concrete roads and carparks all accelerate water off the land and through people’s front doors. What is needed are obstacles to slow it down and sumps to soak it up. Nature provides these in the form of flood-meadows, wetlands and marshes. But 90 per cent of lowland wetlands have been drained in the past 60 years. It is now in everyone’s interest – farmers, developers, householders, government alike – that we put some of them back.

Next week I will share how climate change makes the restoration and reconnection  of living landscapes.

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