From Summit to Sea: Natural solutions to decarbonising landscapes

By Melanie Newton, Project Director for the ELP-funded project Summit to Sea, mid-Wales

In Britain, the conversation around how we use our land is gaining momentum. There’s a growing appreciation that we need bigger, wilder and more connected landscapes; not just for bringing back our diminishing wildlife, but for tackling climate change and creating new opportunities for the rural economy. What more and more people now want to understand, however, is how we propose do this.

Natural climate solutions have the potential to play a critical role in decarbonising our landscapes. Photo credit: Ben Porter.

Rewilding Britain have recently published a report – Rewilding and Climate Breakdown: How restoring nature can help decarbonise the UK – that helps show us the way.

Evidence suggests that rewilding and other natural climate solutions could draw millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by restoring and protecting our living systems. Globally it could provide over a third of the greenhouse gas mitigation required between now and 2030.

The new report shows the kind of scale we could achieve in Britain, and the crucial role played by our precious habitats such as peatland, native woodland, species-rich grassland and marine ecosystems. These are all habitats present in mid-Wales, where our Summit to Sea partnership is exploring new ways to connect and revitalise landscapes, funded by the Endangered Landscapes Programme.

An agricultural landscape within the Pumlumon massif, Cambrian Mountains. Photo credit: Peter Cairns.

Summit to Sea aims to gradually bring together a continuous, nature-rich area, stretching from the Pumlumon massif – the highest area in mid-Wales – down through wooded valleys to the Dyfi Estuary and out into Cardigan Bay. Within five years we hope to have linked at least 10,000 hectares of land and 28,400 hectares of sea.

With increasing recognition of the role that landscapes can play in drawing carbon out of the atmosphere, we need to show how it is possible for communities to come together to deliver change and to be supported for doing so.

Existing agricultural subsidies are on their way out, and the Welsh government has recently confirmed that ‘public payment for public goods’ will be the new guiding principle for what follows.

For most of us, Brexit presents a future that is worrying, but farming is one of the industries that is facing this head-on. The potential changes that farmers are looking at are life-changing.

The Summit to Sea project will create new opportunities for farmers in a changing economic landscape. Photo credit: Ben Porter.

One of the things that has struck me most during my visits to meet farmers is the pleasure they get from farming. They love what they do, they care about their animals, and therefore it’s natural that there is a lot of fear about what the future might bring. Many come from a long line where agriculture has been the only path for their fathers and forefathers.

Like a lot of industries, farming is facing a future which makes change inevitable. This project aims to support these changes while giving farming communities an opportunity to make choices and to forge their own paths.

I would like Summit to Sea to play a part in helping them to hold on to the parts of farming that they hold dear, whilst at the same time reinventing their enterprises in ways that secure not only the industry but the communities, the culture, the language and most importantly of all the future of the planet.

Because the truth is, as landowners they could hold that precious future in their hands.

The Summit to Sea project, linking people over diverse habitats and communities, aims to create new models for collaboration and payment for public goods. To find out more about Summit to Sea, click here.