Healthy, wildlife-rich peatlands that provide multiple benefits to people is a vision the IUCN UK Peatland Programme is working to make a reality. Supported by the Peter De Haan Charitable Trust since its launch in 2009, the programme has promoted peatland restoration in the UK and advocated the benefits of healthy peatlands through partnership work, strong science, sound policy and effective practice.
Peatlands are thought to cover just 3% of the world’s surface, yet store 30% of soil carbon making them our largest natural terrestrial store. Intact, they build up carbon as peat is accumulated, yet in a damaged state release this to the atmosphere contributing to potentially catastrophic climate change. Globally, 25% of peatlands have been destroyed and in the UK the picture is bleaker still with at least 80% considered damaged. As a result, an estimated 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere every year (equivalent to Kenya or Armenia’s total emissions), meaning action is required now simply on the climate change argument alone.
However, it is not just the carbon balance that profits from healthy peatlands. Peatlands help to provide clean drinking water, estimated to be worth £1.5bn by the 2011 UK National Ecosystem Assessment. They also provide important habitat for rare wading birds and birds of prey, including hen harrier, throngs of insects and unusual plants found growing only under boggy conditions. Peatlands are also thought to help slow the flow of water from the uplands and are being considered for the role they could play in natural flood management schemes. These benefits of healthy peatlands to society are often termed ‘ecosystem services’ and sit alongside tourism and recreation interests motivated by the cultural and natural richness of these landscapes.
Found in 175 countries, the UK is thought to be one of the world’s top twelve countries in terms of cover, with around two million hectares of peatland (60% of which is in Scotland). Peatland restoration and sustainable management in the UK is essential if we are to avoid serious environmental, economic and social harm.
The Peter De Haan Charitable Trust (PDHCT) helped to bring 30 peatland experts together in 2008 to make recommendations on how the pressing issue of peatland restoration might be taken forward. This resulted in the start of the programme. PDHCT continues to support the programme, having invested £689,000 to date, in its mission to:
1. Inform policy and legislation at devolved country, UK, EU and international level to ensure conservation and restoration of peatlands
2. Champion peatlands and their environmental, social, cultural and economic values to decision makers and the public
3. Develop and promote good practice within the peatland community for conserving and sustainably managing peatlands
4. Identify economic opportunities for peatland restoration.
Progress for peatlands – 2008 to the present:
Significant progress has been made since 2008, although PDHCT recognises there is still crucial work to be done. Key achievements of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) UK Peatland Programme include:
- The Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands (2011) – an authoritative set of reports assessing the peatland science on key areas of relevance to policy makers to aid them in decision making, where previously the evidence had been unclear
- Demonstrating Success (UK and Global) publications and the online Peatland Project Map – these tools showcase successful peatland restoration in the UK and internationally, and encourage knowledge-exchange and the development of good practice within the community
- The Peatland Code – a voluntary standard for UK peatland projects wishing to market the climate benefit of restoration, designed to facilitate private investment motivated by corporate social responsibility
- IUCN Resolution 43: Securing the future for global peatlands – motion put forward by the IUCN UK Peatland Programme and passed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016 in Hawaii, incorporating it into the global conservation agenda
- Policy briefings – aimed at policy makers, these provide guidance around specific topics
- Government support for peatland restoration – new funding has been made available in England and Scotland for peatland restoration.
Securing our peatland future – looking forward:
The IUCN UK Peatland Programme has developed a new five-year plan (2017-2022), supported by PDHCT, which aims to:
- Publish a UK Peatland Strategy – provide a long-term structure for co-ordinating peatland action in the UK and British Overseas Territories
- Present an update to the Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands (2011), looking at the evidence in new emerging topics e.g. peatlands and forestry, as well as considering any updates to the science in areas included in the first report
- Develop Opportunity Maps for the four countries setting out the potential for peatland restoration within different sectors
- Create an online information hub with easy-to-digest content illustrating the public benefit of peatlands
- Build on the existing set of policy briefings linked to new policy areas, including post-Brexit policy
- Host networking events and an annual conference to bring together peatland experts on the ground and conducting research with policy makers
- Promote global peatland conservation by chairing the IUCN Commission of Ecosystem Management Peatland thematic group
- Further develop and promote the Peatland Code and publish a handbook to support good practice restoration techniques.
PDHCT strongly believes that peatland conservation is vital and is proud to champion the work of the programme, remaining a primary funder of the work carried out.
Photo credits: Header image: Bog pools at Blar na Faioleag Caithness by Richard Lindsay • Golden plover: Norrie Russell • Cotton grass and Sundew: Lorne Gill, Scottish Natural Heritage.