new forest, new thinking

Some rides are for the glory and the medals, others are for the mind. This one was for the planet. The Milner brothers took on the New Forest to discover how this ever changing natural landscape is in the thick of a carbon battle. 

Lloyd Milner cyclist in New Forest

 all photos by Rory Milner

The UK has countless picturesque and diverse rural areas that we all regularly enjoy. Many of these beauty spots play extensive and important roles in cycling that we don’t always recognise or appreciate when we’re exploring them. Nope, I’m not referring to the two- wheeled pastime we all love (although yes, let’s face it, the scenery can make or break a route) but one of earth’s natural cycles, our understanding of which is integral to combatting the climate crisis.

The carbon cycle is the flow of carbon through ecosystems where it takes many different forms. Limiting the presence of carbon in our atmosphere is essential if we are to prevent lasting damage to society and the natural world, we therefore need to lock it up somewhere. As well as making the best cycling routes, the UK’s beautiful ecosystems store large quantities of carbon, for long periods of time. 

The most talked about are forests. Trees are fast becoming known for their ability to store carbon in a sustainable way. The world’s forests are a considerable carbon sink, estimated to absorb 7.6 billion tonnes of CO2 per year - this is 1.5 times more carbon than the US emits annually! The UK is synonymous with this trend, its vegetation is estimated to hold approximately 114 million tonnes of carbon c. 80% of which is contained within our forests and woodlands. Whilst trees tend to take the glory, there are other ecosystems that are equally as important.

Peatlands and topsoil are not as obvious as a tree charismatically swaying in the wind, yet peatlands are the UK’s largest natural carbon sink per hectare. Their anaerobic environment slows decay and they can continuously store vast quantities of carbon. In fact, it is estimated the UK’s peatlands store twenty times more carbon than the UK’s forests! Soils can be found in a variety of different habitats, carrying out numerous roles. Carbon helps soils retain water, maintain structure and even improve its fertility. Soils found in Heathland and grassland ecosystems have the ability to store significant amounts of carbon, up to 103 tonnes per hectare, which is more than agricultural soils.

The New Forest plays a significant role in storing carbon. It is the third largest forest in the UK at 219 square miles and its woodlands store approximately 8,000,000 tonnes of CO2e. Yet, it also contains peatlands, heathlands and grasslands, which as we have discussed, are highly effective in the fight against climate change. This makes the New Forest one of the most important carbon sinks in Europe. It’s peatlands are believed to store roughly 2,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare whilst it’s topsoil stores approximately 21,000,000 tonnes of CO2e!

Lloyd Milner riding through the New Forest

So the next time you take a ride through the New Forest, admire its majestic trees in the ancient woodlands, but also take a moment to appreciate the less obvious carbon stores that are equally as important in the fight against climate change.

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