COP26: How we can tackle the climate and nature crises here in Dorset

COP26: How we can tackle the climate and nature crises here in Dorset

COP26 is fast approaching, and it’s just as relevant here in Dorset as in Glasgow, where the much-anticipated climate conference is taking place. With volatile weather including flooding and heatwaves becoming a more regular occurrence, wildlife across Dorset faces an uncertain future. 

Dorset Wildlife Trust, as part of the national movement of Wildlife Trusts, is calling on the UK Presidency of the global climate conference COP26 to tackle the nature crisis alongside the climate emergency – or neither will be solved. There are several areas that need to be urgently addressed, including: 

Caring for our seas
Dorset’s seagrass meadows are home to many marine species, including seahorses. Seagrass has a huge capacity for carbon storage, accounting for 10% of the carbon captured in marine sediments annually, despite covering only 0.2% of the sea floor. This hard-working habitat needs our protection. 

Boost sustainable farming
Agriculture covers 70% of Dorset. As such, introducing low-carbon farming practices could have a big impact. Conserving soil carbon is one priority and measures to reduce the run-off of soil into rivers and make space for water will help wildlife as well as reduce carbon loss. 

More woodlands
This is best achieved through natural regeneration of woods, or planting resilient native trees where that isn’t possible. New woodlands should be planned for places where they will help nature’s recovery, not planted on the precious areas of high-quality open habitats like downlands and heathland that we have in Dorset. These established habitats also already hold high levels of soil carbon themselves. At Wild Woodbury, a large-scale community rewilding project near Bere Regis, Dorset Wildlife Trust will focus on natural woodland regeneration.

Ban the sale and use of peat in garden products
Peatlands represent the largest carbon store on Earth, with 42% of all soil carbon locked away in these vital habitats. It stores vastly more carbon per acre than woodland, yet we are still using peat for gardening rather than leaving it to do its vital job for nature and climate. In Dorset our heathland bogs and mires, which is where most of our peat soils form, have in the past been damaged through development, forestry and drainage. Nevertheless, over 150 separate sites have been identified and at least half of these need restoration to enable peat soils to recover and to better capture carbon.

More space for nature
By 2030 we need 30% of our land and seas to be protected for nature. Green space in the heart of communities is vital for people, wildlife and the climate. It can help control urban temperatures, manage flooding and maintain health and wellbeing. Yet we are concerned that the Government's proposed planning reforms could designate whole swathes of land for development, with little requirement for wildlife. 

Conservation Director Imogen Davenport leads Dorset Wildlife Trust’s work on nature-based solutions. She said:
“COP26 is a make-or-break event for the planet and the decisions made, or not made, at this conference will be crucial for Dorset’s natural environment. With so much to think about, it’s easy to forget how integral wildlife is to the climate. This is the moment to knit the two back together.”

Projects such as Wild Woodbury give us reasons to be optimistic. Plans for the land acquired earlier this year include naturally regenerated woodland and new wetlands, creating valuable wildlife habitats and capturing more carbon. We will also measure how soil carbon changes on this site over time.

While we eagerly await the results of the COP26 climate conference, there are things you can do today to help ensure a brighter future for Dorset’s wildlife, and the climate:

  • Support Dorset Wildlife Trust’s pioneering work at Wild Woodbury
  • Take action locally to help nature by volunteering with Dorset Wildlife Trust 
  • Go peat and pesticide free in your garden
  • Think about how you can reduce your own carbon footprint – whether that’s travel, energy or lifestyle
  • Make your support for nature and climate action known to your MP and Councillors through post, email and social media