Foreword to the report

This report will be a landmark in setting the agenda for nature-based solutions in the UK, so helping build a resurgent natural world and stable climate, says Yadvinder Malhi, President Elect, British Ecological Society.

Yadvinder Malhi
Yadvinder Malhi in Wytham Woods Debbie Rowe

We live in a time of immense environmental challenge and opportunity. There is a pressing need to stabilise our rapidly changing climate within a few decades and also to halt and reverse the precipitous decline of so much of the natural world and its biodiversity, while at the same improving the lives of many who live in deprivation and poverty.

Yet there is new and real momentum in attempting to address these challenges at levels ranging from international and national policy through to bottom-up actions by cities, civil society, local communities and landowners. In the UK, as in many other countries, the COVID lockdowns have led to new appreciation of how important local nature is to our individual and collective wellbeing.

There is a pressing need to stabilise our rapidly changing climate and reverse the precipitous decline of so much of the natural world.

The desire to ‘build back better’ after the COVID pandemic, together with a radical new rethinking of land use policy and incentives, has led to a burst of interest and creative thinking about how the landscapes and ecosystems of this biodiversity-depleted country can be better managed to facilitate biodiversity recovery and contribute towards addressing climate change, while also providing for the welfare and livelihoods of local communities.

A new opportunity

The concept of nature-based solutions (NbS) to climate change encapsulates this new opportunity and synergy between the climate change, biodiversity and societal agendas.

For this report we employ the definition of NbS as solutions that ‘work with and enhance nature to mitigate or adapt to climate change while simultaneously providing benefits to biodiversity and people’.

Nature can be our ally in tackling both climate change mitigation and adaptation, through processes such as carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, flood risk reduction, ecologically connected landscapes and better urban environments.

Drawing on collective expertise

This report by the British Ecological Society makes a valuable contribution to this agenda by providing an authoritative review of the potential of NbS in the UK. It examines a range of ecosystems and land uses and also looks at wider considerations of what it would take to deliver nature-based solutions at sufficient scale, including policies and potential trade-offs.

It draws on the collective expertise of around 100 contributors with a wide range of expertise, and is a wonderful example of how the broad ecological community of academia, research, civil society and practice can pool its expertise and insights to make an important contribution to this timely and pressing issue.

It is important not to focus on carbon sequestration as the only goal

This report was written based on the expertise of the BES membership community; the authors and reviewers are largely academics from the field of ecology, as well as scientists and practitioners from statutory agencies and NGOs.

A wide variety of ecosystems

When thinking of NbS, tree cover and woodland restoration tends the get the limelight, but, importantly, this report shows how an NbS approach can apply to a wide variety of ecosystems ranging from high peatlands to grasslands, heathlands and agricultural and urban environments, through to freshwater, coastal and marine systems.

It also highlights that it is important not to focus on carbon sequestration as the only goal, as this can result in negative biodiversity outcomes such as monoculture plantations, or tree planting on species-rich natural grasslands or heathlands.

The second part of the report looks at broader issues around the implementation of nature-based solutions in the UK, such as what policy, governance and finance frameworks, as well as systemic change, are needed to deliver these solutions at sufficient scale while also engaging effectively with local communities and other stakeholders.

Nature-based solutions need to deliver for societal and human wellbeing as well for nature and climate. Given the expertise of members of the BES, this report focuses mainly on the biodiversity and climate change aspects, while fully acknowledging the equally important benefits of NbS to people’s health and wellbeing.

Setting the agenda

A big thank you to the all the contributors for their dedication, hard work and insightful contributions, and to the British Ecological Society Policy Team for their convening and production of this report, and skillful navigation and synthesis of the many complex issues that it covers.

I truly believe it will be a landmark in setting the agenda and scientific and policy framework for the roll-out of nature-based solutions in the UK, and thereby to our collective aspiration to build a vibrant, resilient and resurgent natural world and stable climate in which our society and communities can thrive.

Professor Yadvinder Malhi CBE FRS
President-Elect, British Ecological Society