£811,000 boost for Oxfordshire-Buckinghamshire Freshwater Network

27th February 2023

£811,000 to build the Oxfordshire-Buckinghamshire Freshwater Network

More threatened freshwater and wetland habitats will be restored, thanks to an £811,000 Government grant awarded to Freshwater Habitats Trust. The funding will support the national wildlife conservation charity and partner organisations to build the Freshwater Network – a national network of wilder, wetter, cleaner and connected freshwaters.

The grant is one of six, totalling £4.3million, awarded to pioneering nature projects by Natural England to trial the most effective ways to capture carbon and mitigate against climate change. Covering 500 hectares, the projects will restore landscapes across England – from Plymouth to Northumberland – and assess how carbon is captured and stored across different habitats, including grasslands, forests, fens, floodplains and hedgerows..

Led by Freshwater Habitats Trust, the Oxfordshire–Buckinghamshire Freshwater Network project will focus on the role of smaller, peat-dominated wetlands, floodplains, wet grasslands and small waters in sequestering carbon in the landscape.

The funding will support Freshwater Habitats Trust’s collaborative work with landowners, public bodies and other conservation charities to create, restore and manage high quality freshwater habitats across the two counties. The programme involves eight sites across 6,500 hectares, encompassing some of the counties’ richest wildlife habitats, from alkaline fens and historic floodplains to species-rich wet grassland. Restoring these sites to a more natural state will increase the number of clean, unpolluted wetland and freshwater habitats, helping to reverse the decline in freshwater biodiversity.

Natural England will be given access to the sites to carry out innovative research on these habitats’ potential to capture and store carbon. This will help us understand how freshwaters and wetlands, which have been extensively drained and polluted over the last 250 years, could help to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Aerial view of farmland with digger and newly dug ponds

The grant will also enable Freshwater Habitats Trust to continue volunteer programmes, set up through its Green Recovery Challenge Fund project, Building Oxfordshire’s Freshwater Network, which runs until March 2023. A key part of this project, the GroWet initiative, which saw nearly 500 local people nurturing rare wetland plants at home before they were introduced to Oxfordshire’s wetlands, will be relaunched across both counties.

Three women holding plants in pots, standing outside a greenhouse

Freshwater Habitats Trust CEO Professor Jeremy Biggs said: “It is very exciting to have been awarded one of these six major grants and to be playing a role in the national drive to test carbon capture methods.

“This funding will significantly boost the creation of the Freshwater Network, helping us to protect the very best freshwater habitats in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire and building out from these biodiversity hotspots, providing an important demonstration of the Freshwater Network concept. The two counties are home to some of the richest freshwater habitats in the UK but many sensitive freshwatwr and wetland plants are on the edge of extinction in the area. We know that creating and restoring small habitats can bring game-changing benefits for plants and animals.

“We’ll be involving many different people as we start to build the Freshwater Network and this funding will support us to work with volunteers and connect people with their rich wetland and freshwater heritage. We’ll also be collaborating with the many organisations and individuals who have been already been instrumental in helping us to get the Freshwater Network up and running in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.”

Aerial view of a landscape, including a meandering river and newly dug ponds.

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”.

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 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.

The Programme will run until March 2024.