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Researchers from the University of Plymouth are among the authors of a major new report detailing how nature can be a powerful ally in responding to the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change.

The report by the British Ecological Society offers the first complete assessment of the potential of nature-based solutions (NbS) to mitigate climate change and benefit biodiversity in the UK.

Incorporating contributions from over 100 experts, the comprehensive evaluation of the available evidence details the strengths, limitations and trade-offs of NbS in different habitats across the UK.

Those experts include Dr Sian Rees and Dr Matthew Ashley, who contributed to the marine chapter of the report which highlights that marine environments surrounding the UK can offer significant NbS thanks to the large size of habitats.

Saltmarshes and seagrasses are important carbon sinks, the report says, and their restoration can contribute to climate mitigation. Saltmarshes also provide coastal protection from sea-level rise and storms and provide high-biodiversity coastal habitats, especially for bird species.

Dr Rees and Dr Ashley’s contribution was based on the University’s involvement in the Defra North Devon Marine Pioneer, as part of the South West Partnership for Environment and Economic Prosperity (SWEEP) programme.

Through the project, researchers have recently completed the UK’s first marine Natural Capital Asset Register to demonstrate the potential flows and location of habitats that support a healthy climate and multiple ecosystem service benefits. It also identified the tools needed to determine the quantity and quality of marine and coastal habitats that support carbon sequestration.

Using a risk register approach, it was demonstrated that current management of the marine environment is not sufficient to reverse the decline in the degraded ecosystems and NbS must go beyond current efforts to enable restoration and repair of essential marine habitats.

Its inclusion in the British Ecological Society report comes just weeks after the research informed new legislation which aims to protect 117 square miles of coastal seabed and allow for the regeneration of underwater seaweed forests.

Dr Rees, Associate Professor of Social-Ecological Systems and SWEEP Senior Impact Fellow, said:

“It is clear from our work on the North Devon Marine Pioneer that we have the tools to broadly assess where and how our marine habitats support a healthy climate. However, we do not yet have the ambition to urgently enable marine management for wholescale recovery and restoration of these essential marine ecosystems.
"In the current climate emergency, there is no time to waste.”

Read more about Dr Sian Rees and her research

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Dr Sian Rees

In addition to providing a valuable contribution to climate change mitigation, and simultaneously protecting and enhancing biodiversity, the new report shows that NbS can improve human wellbeing, bring economic benefit, and provide a wide range of ecosystem services.

Despite the huge range of benefits NbS have, it also makes clear that they should be seen as complementary to other climate and conservation actions, not as a replacement to them.

Professor Jane Memmott, President of the British Ecological Society, said:

“The Nature-based Solutions report offers a real basis for setting effective policies and incentives that will maximise the benefits of nature-based solutions in the UK for the climate and biodiversity.”

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