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£2m research project hopes to reverse woodland and meadow habitat loss in the UK

Written by on 09/08/2021

A £2m research project that aims to tackle the biodiversity crisis in the UK and help restore the landscape has been launched.

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, the four-year partnership hopes to reverse habitat loss in meadows and woodlands caused by farming, urban development, climate change, and pollution.

Taking place at 100 sites, including South Downs and Stonehenge, researchers will examine how different plants, animals, and other organisms in ecosystems work together.

Pic: National Trust/Chris Lacey
Image: The research will have major implications for ecological restoration target setting. Pic: National Trust/Chris Lacey

It will look at how woodlands and meadows knit together using complex individual processes – such as nutrient cycling, carbon capture, and pollination – rather than simply looking at the presence and number of a particular species.

The research will have major implications for ecological restoration target setting as it will help conservationists ensure interventions, like tree planting or re-introducing species, have maximum benefit.

Pic: National Trust/Graham Eaton
Image: Researchers will examine how different ecosystems’ organisms work together. Pic: National Trust/Graham Eaton

Professor Jim Harris of Cranfield University, lead principal investigator for the project, said: “Improving our ability to restore functional ecosystems is crucial to ensuring we restore nature and achieve net gain in line with government plans ‘to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it’.

“We are trying to understand how the nuts, bolts, and cogs of the ecosystems that we are interested in reassemble and function, and whether this can be done quickly – or whether we need a lot of patience with Mother Nature – who you simply cannot fool.”

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Teams of soil ecologists, botanists, entomologists, and animal behaviourists will take part in a programme of field sampling and laboratory analysis, together with remote sensing, and mathematical analysis.

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The partnership project is led by Cranfield University including the National Trust, Stirling University, the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), and Forest Research.

The Knepp Estate in West Sussex is one of the sites involved in the research. Charlie Burrell, conservationist and landowner said this monitoring was key to showing how ecosystems can “quickly recover”.

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“We are delighted to be a partner in this project which aims to measure ecosystem resilience in restoration projects in the face of climate change,” he said.

“This science will provide a crucial evidence base to support a growing movement which is integral to re-connecting our landscape making it better for wildlife and people alike.”

 Sky News

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