Climate change is likely to change our countryside beyond recognition. We risk losing the cycle of the seasons, the food we depend on, and the wildlife that makes our parts of Yorkshire and the Peak District so wonderful. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
By planting more trees and hedgerows, taking better care of our soils, restoring peatlands, and supporting farmers to produce our food in a more sustainable way, the countryside can be at the heart of solving the crisis, while also restoring and enhancing the natural world that surrounds us. This view is at the centre of CPRE’s new policy position on the climate emergency and we stand four square with it.
We have until 2030 to implement the action needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. This will require global emissions to fall by 7.6% every year from now until 2030. A rise in temperature of even half a degree more than this would significantly increase the chances of droughts, floods and other extreme weather events, which are already becoming increasingly common.
At the same time, the UK’s wildlife continues to decline. Since the 1970s, there has been a 13% decline in average abundance across wildlife studied and the declines continue unabated. While the biodiversity crisis also has other causes, climate change is a significant contributor, so the two crises are two sides of the same coin, and we must address them together.
The threats posed by the climate emergency to our countryside and rural communities are profound. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has identified a number of risks, including: loss of quality of cropland; sea level rises; new pests, disease and species migration posing risks to crops, livestock and trees; greater water stress affecting ecological health of lakes and rivers; degradation of peatland; increased extreme weather events which will pose increasing threats to communities, businesses, infrastructure and the natural environment.
The landscapes we know, the biodiversity and forms of economically feasible production they support, as well as the nature and availability of fundamental resources such as fertile soil and usable water, will change. Our approaches to energy production, land management, nature, water and soil will need to evolve rapidly. But ‘different’ need not be ‘bad’, if our countryside remains beautiful, diverse, accessible, health giving and productive. All these things underpin resilient and viable rural communities and economies.
The solutions to tackle the climate emergency, such as planting more trees and hedgerows, making the most out of renewables, making our homes more energy efficient, and new sustainable public transport will require transformational change across the country, touching every sector and community. Whilst our front cover of wind turbines on the Great Ridge is deliberatively provocative (and not an outcome we desire), all landscapes (including national parks) and communities must play their part in producing more low carbon energy and consuming less energy.
Decision making – and the role of the planning system – must be radically transformed with more democratic, local engagement and more strategic planning at regional level. A new low carbon land use strategy will be essential. Action must be swift yet the transition should be equitable for rural areas.
It is therefore necessary that the landscapes we know, the biodiversity around us, the ways in which we travel and the type of places that we live, will change. We must embrace this change positively and holistically, so that future generations can enjoy the biologically rich, fertile countryside that we celebrate for its intrinsic value as much as we do for providing us with things such as food, fresh water and health and wellbeing benefits.