Wednesday 3 May 2023

The Carbon Cycle - Boom or Bust?

Is Carbon Friend or Foe?

Bluebells in Forest by Sarah Bignell-Howse

🌼 Carbon is a necessary part of the planet. Plants rely on CO2 for their ability to grow & the planet needs a certain amount of CO2 to trap in warmth. The carbon exchange between humans, oceans & plants is usually well maintained but with human intervention imbalances can occur.

The Carbon Cycle, A Foundation of Life

Carbon is stored in the ocean, rocks, fossil fuels & plants. In a carbon cycle, plants can absorb CO2 to survive (by way of photosynthesis) & release carbons when they rot down & die. 

Large forested areas can become carbon sinks and absorb more carbon than they release.  

Conversely, when fossil fuel such as coal, oil & gas (known as a carbon source) are burned they release carbon emissions high into the atmosphere causing untold damage to the environment, which then depletes the health of the planet & those who depend on it.

If trees are depleted by deforestation this adds to the problem of too much CO2 floating around in the atmosphere as they become less able to lock in carbon at ground level.

Land needs good peat cover & tree cover to help it keep carbon locked in. In oceans, plankton, mangroves & sea grasses can help keep carbon locked in too. When these natural environments are depleted they release carbons instead of locking them in creating the problem to escalate out of control.

An example is peat, which in good condition works exceptionally well as a nutrient rich, diverse landscape holding in both moisture & carbon. Peat bogs hold twice as much carbon as trees & are an important force in helping the battle against climate change. 

When they dry out the nutrients are lost & carbon is released back into the atmosphere. In dry poorly conditioned bogs, fires can also spread destroying the habitat & causing more damage to the environment by the release of warming greenhouse gases.

The National Trust are working hard to protect peat land areas & the government have stepped in too.

There are plans to invest over £50 million in peatland restoration as part of the Nature for Climate Fund, this will help to restore at least 35,000 ha of peatland by 2025.

According to the government, ‘In the UK it is estimated there are over 3 billion tonnes of carbon stored in peatlands, equivalent to all of the carbon stored in the forests of the UK, Germany and France combined.' 

The UK government are also banning the use of peat enriched compost products from 2024. This will help prevent the loss of this important carbon sink that has been around for thousands of years.

Did you know, the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world?

Moves have been underway to increase urban forests & encourage planting of hedgerows across the country. It’s awful to see the statistics in this BBC article showing the wildlife species being lost in the UK.

Sheep in Field Pic by thượng-nguyễn from Pexels

Farmers can help by changing their techniques for managing land to prevent over farming, which leads to soil depletion furthering the release of carbons into the air. 

A term called ‘regenerative farming’ may involve planting more hedgerows, rotating animal stock around different fields (so they’re not being over grazed) & planting wildflowers which help to add nutrients & lock in carbon. 

This can also encourage biodiversity in the landscape due to the additional tree, hedgerow & wildflower planting & may bring a return of our UK species most at risk.

It’s great to see that £500 million of the UK Governments £640 million Nature for Climate Fund will be dedicated to trees. 

Schools & local communities can also help by applying for tree packs & hedgerow packs from the Woodland Trust.

You can also do your bit in your own garden – check out this link for some tips on what you can do at home:

Blue Carbon - It's a Thing!

Another source of carbon sink often overlooked is sea grass. Projects have been underway to replenish much of the sea grass around British shores. This has an added bonus of adding refuge for fish & sea mammals which helps to add a diverse population. Diversity is key - if one plant or animal species dies out due to disease, others may be able to increase their numbers.

According to the Wildlife Trust ‘Seagrass captures carbon at a rate 35 times faster than tropical rainforests, and account for 10% of the ocean’s total burial of carbon (despite covering less than 0.2% of the ocean floor).’

Did you know that whales can also play a part in reducing global warming? Whale poop drops to the bottom of the ocean which leads to an abundance of vegetation helping to lock in carbon - the phytoplankton then feeds the whales in return – a win win!

Sequestering carbon & locking it into our seas is known as ‘blue carbon’. Helping to keep this carbon capture healthy is dependent on us looking after the oceans whether that be by protecting & planting sea grass or increasing whale & phytoplankton populations, they all have their part to play & so do we!  

For an in depth look at blue carbon & its various sources go to:

30 by 30 - The UK government have joined a global alliance of 73 countries to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030 - more in the link below: 

A Few Things Happening in May

Embrace No Mow May* – it’s a good way to let nature recover from our desire to manicure everything. 

Justin Moat, a researcher from the Kew Gardens Nature Unlocked programme quite rightly says "We need to put up with scruffy lawns!" 

I love seeing the small flowers pop up, a blast of colour sometimes – we have whites, blues, purples & yellow which is cheery in my eyes. Insects would agree.

Dandelions in Mug Pic by dagmara-dombrovska from Pexels
Dandelions for example create extra nutrients for the soil, food for bees & butterflies & you can even make a very easy cup of herbal tea.

*For more on No Mow May head on down to the link below: (it’s a good excuse to put ya feet up!)

Meanwhile in this year’s Chelsea Flower show – a third of the gardens will be show casing weeds!

🌳The National Hedgerow Week (8-14 May 2023) is another one to look out for this May

Pus save 12% at our online shop throughout the month of May 💚

Some terms explained

What is net zero? We can achieve net zero by reducing carbon emissions - those that are produced can be offset by planting trees, protecting peatland areas & improving the quality of the oceans, which will help to create a net effect.

Carbon negative – where more carbon is removed than created.

Carbon neutral – where the carbon emitted is offset by the amount absorbed.

Carbon intensity – a measure of how clean our electricity is (ie how many grams of CO2 are released to produce 1 kw hour). For example fuel from fossil fuels is much more carbon intensive than fuel from green energy.

dandelion head up close by anthony from Pexels

A ‘when to plug in’ app can indicate the best times to run appliances – 
for example weather is unpredictable & there may be more solar energy on sunny days or wind power on windy days! The app can help you find the best times.

During ‘high peak times’ of the day more electricity will be taken from fossil fuel supplies; running appliances at lower peak times may increase the likelihood of greener energy being used. 

Carbon sequestration – this can be biological sequestration (absorption & storage of carbon via trees & the ocean) or geological (via rock formations). We can also capture carbon using various man made methods below:

Carbon dioxide removalTechniques on the table include everything from direct air capture or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to biochar or enhanced rock weathering.

Direct Air Capture (DAC) – removal of carbon from the air which can be stored underground or recycled. Check out some companies looking into direct air capture in the UK.

Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) – similar to above, carbon is captured within a production plant, for example in a pipeline before being stored or re-used.

Biochar – heated plant matter can be added to soil as a soil improver which enhances carbon capture & moisture retention.

Blue Carbon Carbon that is captured & stored by ocean and coastal ecosystems.

Green Concrete – building works normally emits carbon but some developments have been made in producing green concrete that may help to absorb carbon. Also plants in city areas can help cool the buildings down.

Carbon Footprint
Your carbon footprint totals how much carbon is released into the atmosphere as a result of your everyday activities. Check out this footprint calculator produced by the WWF.

 🌍 Some Useful Links Before You Go!