Be part of the solution

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.

Restoring peatlands is part of The People’s Plan for Nature – a plan for the future of nature created for the people, by the people of the UK. Have a listen to Bigger Than All Of Us, on the Carbon Copy Podcast, to hear their stories and how nature can bring us together.

More related community actions