GROUNDWORK NE & Cumbria has been awarded almost £600,000 by Natural England to pursue its Wansbeck Restoration for Climate Change (WRCC) project. It is one of only six pioneering nature projects across England to receive funding to trial ways to capture carbon and mitigate the impacts of climate change. At the heart of the project are nature based solutions, restoring natural habitats to tackle the environmental crisis.

The Wansbeck project will work over 144 hectares of farmland in Northumberland spanning the Wallington Hall, Middleton North and Little Harle estates to restore landscapes and habitats including grasslands, peaty pockets and woodland. The work will also assess how carbon is captured and stored across different habitats, and how nature-based solutions can successfully be used to tackle climate change in a farmed landscape.

What sets this project apart and makes it distinct, is that it is an exercise in collaborative working, getting a number of land managers, farmers and owners to work collectively, when traditionally they would work individually. The project will demonstrate how landowners can work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote carbon sequestration. Working across 10 sites to create, or restore, 6 priority habitats, the project will contribute to the wider restoration of 6,000 hectares of the River Wansbeck catchment in Northumberland.

A major peat restoration project will also be conducted. Drainage channels, previously cut into the peat, will be reinstated to prevent the land draining so quickly. The ground will be rewet allowing vegetation regrowth and stopping rotting and decomposition when peat dries out. Peat is excellent at carbon capture, better even than trees and forest, so the project will aim to reverse the decline of the peatland and allow natural peat accumulation to resume. Hedgerow, grassland and native tree planting will also be carried out during the project.

Project lead on the Wansbeck Restoration programme, Michele MacCallam, Principal Landscape Architect at Groundwork NE & Cumbria said:
“We are absolutely delighted to have secured funding for this project. The programme plays to Groundwork’s strengths. We are experts in project management and delivery and in pulling together partnerships with relevant experts to tackle nature based projects. In this case we will be working with scientists from Natural England and Northumbria University, who are experts in carbon protocols. We are not specialists, but we are very good at delivery, allocating resources on the ground and enlisting the right people to deliver results.

“It was a bold, ambitious move to apply for the grant but we were confident that we could bring in the knowledge and expertise to get the job done. We are excited about all the project can deliver.”

“For me personally, this is also a phenomenal opportunity. I have worked as a landscape architect for 30 years, and this brings my career full circle. My first degree was in environmental science at Sheffield University, where I learnt about inter-relationships between ecology, geology and soil science. Back in Sheffield in the ‘80s, we were starting to learn about the Greenhouse Effect, when climate change was not even on the agenda. It feels fitting to be contributing to a major environmental project that focuses on these principles towards the end of my career.”

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England said:  “Many of the solutions to climate change are all around us in the natural world. From trees, hedges and grasslands that absorb carbon from the air to the peat-rich soils that hold it in the ground, there are huge opportunities to catch carbon while achieving other benefits at the same time, including increasing our ability to adapt to climate change impacts. The simple fact is that when it comes to our net zero ambitions Nature is our biggest ally and more we can do to restore it the better.”

“Getting the scale of benefits we need requires working together collaboratively across entire landscapes. This is only going to be possible if we forge broad partnerships and this is increasingly the case as different sectors see that they are all part of the solution to the climate and Nature challenges that the world and this country are setting out to meet”.

The Wansbeck Barrage is another project that we are working on in the catchment with the Environment Agency.

Nature Based Solutions for Climate Change at the Landscape Scale is a partnership led by Natural England with the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew at Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex.  It demonstrates the power of collaborative working to understand the value of nature-based solutions in tackling climate change and will deliver against the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan.

The organisations will work alongside project partners to expand scientific evidence on greenhouse gas emissions, create sustainable funding opportunities for landscape scale projects, and provide additional data to inform the development of robust carbon standards, such as the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code.

The Nature Based Solutions for Climate Change Programme is a £12.5 million programme first established in 2021 which is funded by the Treasury’s Shared Outcomes Fund, and cosponsored by Defra and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. The fund seeks to increase cross-government collaboration and address society’s most challenging problems including biodiversity loss, climate change and land use change.