Restore peatlands

Winmarleigh Carbon Farm; credit: Lancashire Wildlife Trust
For centuries, peat and its vegetation have been extracted, drained and degraded. Dry peat is easily eroded and washed away, it’s a fire hazard and, worst of all, it emits instead of storing carbon dioxide. Dry peat is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases, equivalent to 10% of all annual fossil fuel emissions.

This is a big deal because peatlands occupy a remarkably big proportion (1/10th) of the entire UK land area and are in the top ten of the biggest areas of peatland in the world.
They are fundamental to our ‘ecosystem services’, providing over one quarter of our drinking water, offering a home to many scarce species and holding more carbon than the forests of Britain, France and Germany combined. But only if the peat is wet.

Only 22% of UK peatlands are currently in a near natural or rewetted condition and as a result they are emitting more than 23 million tonnes overall of greenhouse gases per year. These emissions include methane which, over a 20-year period, is 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide.

Fortunately, things are starting to happen. Care-Peat, a partnership project that includes local landowners and farmer organisations, is working to restore the carbon storage capacity of peatlands in parts of Northwest Europe. In the UK this work is led by Lancashire Wildlife Trust with partners Manchester Metropolitan University and BeadaMoss.

With local support, they have set up the pioneering Winmarleigh Carbon Farm. They removed turf and topsoil to reveal the peat, then used walls of compacted peat to raise the water table and re-wet the site. Sphagnum moss was planted over the peat, to retain moisture and reduce emissions, which have already dropped by 90%.

Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB) is a €4.9m five-year partnership led by RSPB NI and involving RSPB Scotland, Birdwatch Ireland, Butterfly Conservation, Moors for the Future and Northern Ireland Water, to restore almost 500ha of the Garron Plateau, the largest area of intact blanket bog in Northern Ireland. There has been significant habitat improvement for priority and protected species, the peat is now revegetating and rewetting, sequestering carbon, attenuating flow to the reservoir and slowing erosion.

If you have an allotment or manage a community garden, you can help protect and restore peatlands. As well as only buying peat-free plants and compost for your garden or allotment, put pressure on your local garden centres and plant nurseries, many of whom are surprisingly reluctant, to switch immediately to selling and using only sustainable peat-free compost.
Winmarleigh Carbon Farm, Lancs
Start something new…

Check this map to see if you live in an area of peatland. If so, you could support or help to create a local peatland partnership to restore the area. Advice, training and resources are available from the IUCN UK Peatland Programme.

Inspired by nature-based solutions? Check out lots of other biodiversity & nature initiatives.

… or join an existing community project:

If you live in a region where there are peatlands (see this map to check), contact your local Wildlife Trust to see if there are any special peatland restoration and management projects on the go. It’s very likely they’ll need volunteers to help make the project happen.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an expert in wildlife or science: a whole range of skills is needed to guarantee the success of projects like these and it’ll also be possible to learn as you go.

Other related community actions: Plant trees, Restore seagrass

What do we mean by community action?