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Green spaces and climate change
Climate change and the Earth’s green spaces are linked together in many complex ways. The way we use our green spaces can have a significant impact on climate change, something this factsheet explores in some detail. Likewise, climate change is likely to impact green spaces, making it difficult for plants and animals to survive due to altered temperatures and weather patterns. This vicious cycle can, however, be broken and our green spaces put to good use in helping to combat climate change. Even a walk in the woods can be a low carbon form of exercise!

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The importance of green spaces
From absorbing CO2 to producing alternatives to fossil fuels, green spaces can have an important part to play in helping to reduce the magnitude of climate change. The following sections explain how.

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Reducing CO2
As plants grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. This CO2 helps them to grow and is assimilated into their tissues, locking it away and stopping it from having an affect on climate change. So long as the plant keeps growing, it keeps absorbing CO2. If the plant dies and rots away or is cut down and burned, the CO2 is released back into the atmosphere again.

Both the rotting and burning of wood or other plant material are classed as carbon neutral. The amount of CO2 released is the same as the amount absorbed in growing.

Even better than this, by planting new trees or vegetation in areas where there were previously none, CO2 can be locked away. So long as these trees or plants are left in place permanently or replaced when they die or are harvested, this reduction in CO2 will be long lasting and will help to combat climate change. However, it’s important that native tree species are planted as these will best support the native animals and fungi that will ultimately carry out the rotting of the dead wood.
On the other hand, by reducing the amount of vegetation on a piece of land, the CO2 levels in the atmosphere will ultimately increase. One of the key ways this is happening is through deforestation. As trees are cut down and used  as fuel or turned into paper which is disposed of to rot away in landfill, the CO2 they were storing is released back into the atmosphere. Around the world, forests are being clear felled without replanting new trees. As a result, deforestation currently accounts for up to 30% of greenhouse gases.

However, buying sustainably produced timber products can help ensure that properly managed forests have a future. Look for the FSC logo on furniture, flooring and garden products.

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Regulating temperatures
Woodlands are well known for their ability to regulate temperature extremes, creating comfortable microclimates for the plants and animals that live there. This effect can also be harnessed in our towns and cities.

The smart location of trees in urban areas can create wind breaks in the winter, helping to reduce heating bills. Likewise, carefully placed trees can help to create shade in the summer, while cooling the air further through the transpiration of water through their leaves. Due to these effects, urban trees have been estimated to bring about a reduction of 25% in net cooling and heating, according to a study in California (Akbari, 2001).

Growing food locally
We import over half our food, often over great distances, yet much of it could be grown here in ways that benefit our green spaces. Food makes up around 30% of our individual carbon footprint from its production and transport.

In the UK, food miles account for around 18 million tonnes worth of CO2 emissions each year. This is the equivalent to travelling over 100,000,000 miles by plane - the same distance as to the moon and back 200 times!

A lot of this mileage can be avoided by buying locally produced food. Farmers markets and organic box schemes are great ways to do this. Look out for place of origin labels on food items in the shops. For the ultimate in local food, grow your own in your garden or on an allotment, or arm yourself with a guide book and go foraging!

The majority of agriculture’s contribution to climate change comes from the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. This generates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas over 300 times more potent than CO2. Organic farming avoids these fertilisers and uses less energy too.

Replacing fossil fuels
Green spaces can be used to grow and coppice trees such as alder and willow, which can be used as a fuel in wood burning stoves and wood pellet boilers. These systems can be installed to replace oil fuelled boilers and gas central heating systems - both of which release large amounts of CO2 in heating buildings.

Reducing flooding
Cleaning up after flooding is costly, both in terms of finances and energy use. Unfortunately, flooding events in the UK are predicted to increase with climate change.

Careful management of our waterways and water catchment areas can help to reduce flooding, reducing the CO2 emissions involved in cleaning them up. By planting trees in the upland areas that feed into our rivers and alongside riverbanks, more of the heavy rainwater is absorbed, helping to stop floods from occurring.

Further Information:
Big Barn - A directory of UK local food producers: www.bigbarn.co.uk
MWF - Wood boiler installation and wood fuel supply across the Midlands: www.wood-fuel.co.uk
The Logpile - Contains an up to date database of wood fuel suppliers and pellet equipment suppliers: www.nef.org.uk/logpile/index.htm
Soil Association - Information on organic food and farming, including details of suppliers and local food campaigns in your area: www.soilassociation.org
Forest Stewardship Council - Promoting responsible management of the world’s forests: www.fsc-uk.org

Information from Marches Energy Agency updated June 2010: www.mea.org.uk

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