THE Lakes, the Dales, the moors of the west country and Yorkshire, Snowdonia, and the Mountains of Mourne. And swathe after swathe of Scotland.

A new map of the United Kingdom produced by the RSPB looks like a tourist guide to the country’s most stunning landscapes.

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In fact, the conservation charity has been plotting Britain’s carbon sinks, its rich peatlands and diverse uplands, rather than natural beauty spots. But its findings suggest that they are almost one and the same thing.

“For the first time everyone can see the best places for nature are also fantastic places to tackle climate change,” said the RSPB as it unveiled its maps for World Environment Day. Its data shows there are millions of tonnes of carbon stored in the most important places for plants and animals.

Scotland alone accounts for most of Britain’s “stored” carbon, 1.26 billion tonnes, the equivalent to 33 years’ worth of greenhouse gases emissions from Scotland.

The RSPB maps came out after Francesca Osowska, chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage, made a landmark pitch for nature to be put at the forefront of tackling climate change.

The Scottish Government has officially declared a climate emergency and aims to get to zero carbon - when it stops making a net contribution to global heating - by 2045.

The RSPB, meanwhile, wants to make sure carbon already trapped in our landscapes stays where it is.

The charity said: “Two thirds of the UK’s carbon in these maps is located in Scotland showing the huge responsibility we have to protect and look after it for the good of the planet.

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“However, scientists are concerned that 63% of this carbon is in locations that are not protected and are therefore vulnerable.

“The majority of this carbon is found in our peatland soils and with 80% of Scotland’s peatlands damaged or in a poor condition we should all be concerned that a large proportion are haemorrhaging carbon into the atmosphere, instead of storing it safely in the ground.”

RSPB Scotland wants the Scottish Government to step up efforts to protect peatlands and other vulnerable eco-systems. These could play a role in removing more carbon from the atmosphere and slowing down climate change. Or they could add to the problem.

Jim Densham, Senior Climate Policy Officer with RSPB Scotland, said: “We need urgent action to protect nature in Scotland.

“Our natural world is in crisis with over half of our species vanishing from our skies, lochs, rivers, towns and countryside, and to tackle the climate crisis we must achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045. So, protecting the spaces that are beneficial for both species, wildlife and store carbon is a clear no brainer.”


The RSPB said its project began by mapping all of the best places for nature in the UK; the priority habitats for our wildlife and plant life. It said it then applied carbon data for each habitat, including the top soil layer.

It said: “Analysing the plants and just 30cm of topsoil on these areas revealed how much carbon is locked up in the land and vegetation. This led to the staggering discovery that these areas of the UK hold carbon equivalent to over two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and that two thirds of this carbon is in Scotland’s nature-rich areas.

Mr Densham said: “There is a real opportunity to use these maps to protect the things that are important to us all. We need the Scottish Government to rapidly deploy nature-based solutions to tackle climate breakdown and the global nature crisis.

“More funding is needed to help farmers, crofters and land managers to restore and maintain these areas to secure long term benefits for carbon and nature. With such a large area of peatland to restore the Government needs to urgently boost Peatland Action funding to a minimum of £20m per year.”

The Flow Country of Caithness, a potential Unesco world heritage site, is one of Scotland’s biggest sinks.