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Winter gritting environmental and climate impact

The Winter Gritting Industry and Climate Change: What Can We Do?

Climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the most pressing environmental challenges facing humanity today. Both issues are interconnected, and there are numerous global, regional and national initiatives at work trying to improve the planet’s position. There are an enormous number of initiatives across all industries, and our industry and the winter gritting we provide also has to play its part.

Net Zero or Biodiversity?

One approach to addressing climate change is a focus on reducing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions, a ‘Net Zero’ approach. CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas that is causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm. By reducing CO2 emissions, we can slow the pace of climate change and mitigate its impacts.

Another approach to addressing climate change is to focus on protecting and restoring biodiversity. Biodiversity refers to the variety and abundance of life on Earth. Biodiversity is essential for healthy ecosystems, which provide us with a wide range of benefits, including clean air and water, food production, climate regulation and potentially, new medical cures.

Biodiversity itself is also a measure of a healthy ecosystem. Habitats untouched by humanity show a wide variety of species, each with its own niche, whereas habitats affected by man have much less diversity and species. For example, on farming land, the variety of insects that can survive is very small, because the crops that the farmers grow will only support few species. Then, this effect goes all the way up the food chain – with for example less bird species because there is not enough insect life there to support different bird species.

Net Zero

Net zero strategies focus on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and increasing our use of renewable energy sources. Fossil fuels are the primary source of CO2 emissions. The winter maintenance industry is unavoidably a heavy user of fossil fuels because we use vehicles to spread salt. Many net zero corporate statements only focus on offset, i.e. planting some trees to make up for carbon emissions. However, through our adoption of better technologies, responsible operators such as OUTCO have organically helped minimise industry CO2 emissions:

Use of more efficient gritting methods: For example, where we can, we use pre-wetted salt to reduce the amount of salt required and improve its effectiveness. Pre-wetted salt can reduce the amount of salt required by up to 25%, and CO2 emissions by up to 15%.

Use of hyper accurate meso-scale forecasting: eliminating all excess gritting journeys.

Use of alternative de-icing materials to salt: For example, sand and gravel can be substituted in some cases which will reduce the amount of salt being used but act as extra traction.

Targeting winter gritting operations to specific areas and times: For example, OUTCO gritting is optimised using route planning software, to minimise fuel use.

Use of marine salt: harvested from the sea, OUTCO uses white marine salt, which has a smaller carbon footprint than grit which is mined from the earth and non-renewable.

Using more efficient gritting machinery: OUTCO’s gritting machinery measures the spread rate of salt, to make sure that we do not spread any more than is absolutely necessary.

Only use of loose salt: pre-bagged salt adds enormous amount of unnecessary plastic waste. We provide season-long grit bins filled with salt to our clients, which prevents them having to purchase bagged salt.

Biodiversity

It is well-documented that biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate. The decline in biodiversity is due to a number of factors, including habitat loss and fragmentation, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and climate change. The loss of biodiversity has a negative impact on ecosystems and the services that they provide. For example, the loss of pollinators is threatening food production, and the loss of forests is exacerbating climate change.

As “green space professionals”, OUTCO operatives take their duty to protect biodiversity and be proactive to safeguard wildlife and our wildflower meadows very seriously.

The statistics speak for themselves, since the second world war, we have lost 97% of our wildflower meadows in the UK. Over 200,000 miles of hedgerows have been destroyed and half of our ancient woodland and heathland has disappeared. The resulting effect on wildlife has been dramatic, with 41% of all species seeing a decline since 1970 and a complete loss of 150 species in the last one hundred years.

At OUTCO, we believe there is a strong case for amending grounds maintenance regimes to prevent the decline of pollinators and to make space for nature. There are small differences which can be made to grounds maintenance regimes to increase habitats in the UK:

Native wildflowers are an essential part of the UK’s ecosystem, providing food and shelter for a wide range of wildlife. Planting native wildflowers on estates is a fabulous way to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies, as well as other beneficial insects. Perennials are a good choice for wildflower planting, as they will flower year after year with minimal care. Trees and especially old ancient hedgerows are vital wildlife corridors and habitats. They provide food and shelter for a wide range of animals, including birds, mammals, and insects. Bats map out their foraging routes using hedges, and hedgehogs, as their name suggests, just love a good hedge. Maintaining and encouraging trees and hedgerows on client estates is a great way to help wildlife thrive.

Ragwort, clover, and thistles are often seen as weeds, but they are actually vital to pollinators. These plants provide food for bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. Leaving a small area of the land unmown to allow these plants to grow is an excellent cost-effective way to support pollinators. If there is sufficient land on the estate, an unmown area can be combined with a wildflower meadow. Long grass is home to a myriad of insect life. This includes pollinators such as bees and butterflies, as well as other beneficial insects such as ladybirds and lacewings, which will in turn consume detrimental insects such as greenfly.

Not OR, but AND

Net Zero and biodiversity represent different means to an end, but both strategies are complementary approaches to addressing climate change. Net zero and CO2 reduction is an important first step in slowing the pace of climate change. However, CO2 reduction alone will not be enough to prevent the negative impacts of climate change. We also need to protect and restore biodiversity.

The winter industry needs to take both simple CO2 reduction and overall biodiversity protection measures to address its portion of climate change. By taking such steps, we can protect the planet and ensure a sustainable future for all.

Work With a Responsible Operator

OUTCO (formerly GRITIT) are the UK’s leading winter risk management provider, please speak to one of our team if you would like to find out how we can help you mitigate the impact of severe cold weather whilst also doing your bit for the environment.

Contact OUTCO

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