Reporting on the UN’s Global Assessment Report the BBC states that between 1980 and 2000, 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost, mainly from cattle ranching in South America and palm oil plantations in South East Asia. Faring worse than forests are wetlands, with only 13% of those present in 1700 still in existence in the year 2000. The Pennine PeatLIFE project is making a positive difference by restoring wetlands in the UK.
Conservation bodies active in peatland restoration across the UK were in Westminster this week to explain the vital role of their work in the fight to slow climate change.
A week after 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg took her environmental message to Westminster, a group of organisations met MPs and Peers to highlight the valuable public benefits of healthy peatlands and how restoring and protecting them can help to tackle catastrophic climate change.
Pennine PeatLIFE, a major peatland conservation project led by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership in collaboration with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Forest of Bowland AONB Partnership, hosted the parliamentary reception on Tuesday 30 April. The reception was co-ordinated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) UK Peatland Programme, and brought together partnerships working across the UK, representing a wealth of expertise and over 100,000 hectares of restored peatlands.
Julian Sturdy MP (York Outer) and Rishi Sunak MP (Richmond) sponsored the event and talked about their visits to Pennine PeatLIFE sites in their own constituencies.
Environment Minister, Thérèse Coffey said:
“I was delighted to speak to the Pennine PeatLIFE event. The UK’s three million hectares of peatlands are an invaluable resource in our natural environment, providing carbon storage, clean water, flood mitigation, natural habitats, and land for agriculture and recreation.
“Four large-scale peatland projects across England are benefitting from £10 million of Defra funding, to restore over 6,000 hectares of degraded peatland between now and March 2021. It was great to see the fruits of that investment and meet some of the people behind this essential work.”
The undervalued moorland landscape of upland areas of the UK can capture and store vast amounts of carbon, locking it in to stop it contributing to further climate change. However if they are left to degrade, peatlands will release their stored carbon into the atmosphere. Dried-out, damaged peat is also vulnerable to fire, as can be seen with the wildfires that have taken hold on moors across the country.
Public benefits of healthy peatlands are not restricted to tackling climate change. 70% of our drinking water comes from upland catchments, they host internationally important biodiversity of plants and animals, and they ‘slow the flow’ of water which can reduce the impact of flooding.
Rob Stoneman, Chair of Pennine PeatLIFE, said: “With the industrial revolution the UK began what Greta Thunberg refers to as a ‘mind-blowing historical carbon debt.’ We think that we should be leading a new industrial revolution, one that reduces emissions and addresses climate change as the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. Healthy peatlands are central to this climate change revolution, and we must continue to invest in their conservation.”
Rob Brown, owner of Howesyke Farm in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, spoke about his experience as a landowner: “On my farm 950 acres of peatland have been restored for the public benefit. Thousands of tonnes of CO2 have been saved from entering the atmosphere and downstream the benefits include cleaner water and reduced impact of flooding.
“We need to create more opportunities for land managers to undertake peatland restoration and support the delivery organisations, such as AONB and National Park teams, through blended public, private and charitable funding solutions.”
Paul Leadbitter, Peatland Programme Manager at the North Pennines AONB Partnership, said: “What many people see when they look at our moorlands are vast expanses of a harsh and relatively inaccessible habitat, seemingly without much growing there. However these peatlands and the plants that grow on them are the engines of carbon storage in our upland landscape.”
Pennine PeatLIFE is funded by the EU LIFE programme with match funding from Yorkshire Water, United Utilities, Northumbrian Water and the Environment Agency. The North Pennines AONB Partnership and IUCN UK Peatland Programme have also received funding from innovative funders and grant-makers such as the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to further develop peat restoration programmes in the UK.
The UK Peatland Strategy sets out an ambitious target of two million hectares of peatland in good condition, under restoration or being sustainably managed by 2040.
IUCN UK Peatland Programme Director, Clifton Bain, said: “There is great momentum and expertise in the UK peatland sector and we have made real progress towards our targets. Long-term funding is needed to maintain this momentum and realise the many benefits healthy peatlands provide us with.
“The United Nations General Assembly has declared the next decade the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Restoring degraded ecosystems is a proven measure to tackle climate change and the peatland community in the UK can help meet this commitment through innovative restoration practices and its established ethos of partnership working.”
There’s three times more carbon in the soil than in the atmosphere – but that carbon’s being released by deforestation and poor farming. Problems include soils being eroded, compacted by machinery, built over, or harmed by over-watering.
The hot spell in February and the recent Easter heatwave have contributed to a total of 96 major wildfires of 25 hectares or larger, eclipsing the previous high of 79 across the whole of 2018.
The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust says it needs to restore the “brown and broken” Yorkshire peatlands to their former glory to help prevent another disastrous flood like the 2015 Boxing Day disaster in York.
Peatlands are being restored across northern England. Pennine PeatLIFE project partner Yorkshire Wildlife Trust describes restoration efforts at Fleet Moss.
The UNEP describe seven ways to slow global warming . They say there is a need to avoid any further conversion of peatlands into agricultural land and restore little-used, drained peatlands by rewetting them.
Pennine PeatLIFE in the UK and Hydrology LIFE in Finland are 2 examples of the LIFE projects working to restore this priority habitat. While the landscapes differ in each country, conservationists are combining their experiences of working on similar strategies. Paul Leadbitter, Peatland Programme Manager from the North Pennines AONB Partnership, explains how the projects got together.
A new group has been launched that will exchange expertise across Europe to help in the fight against climate change and restore some of our most vital habitats.
Launched by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership in collaboration with environmental network Eurosite, the group will bring together peatland restoration experts to share the science and practice behind the work they do on sites across Europe.
As lead partner of the EU funded Pennine PeatLIFE project, staff from the North Pennines AONB Partnership will chair the new Peatland Restoration Working Group. Setting up the group is one of the objectives of Pennine PeatLIFE, and will allow experts to share scientific research and expertise as well as the practical restoration and monitoring techniques which have been developed across the EU.
Damaged peatlands release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but once restored they act as a carbon sink. Emissions from damaged peat contribute to about 10% of the EU’s total carbon dioxide emissions and as such their restoration and sustainable management are an important tool to help mitigate climate change. Restored and healthy peatlands are also important habitats for plants and animals, and mitigate against flooding by slowing the flow of water to lowland areas.
Kristijan Čivić, Network Development Manager of Eurosite said:
“Our members have been sharing knowledge between similar sites for more than 30 years. We are now looking at a different approach where we work together on a topic of joint interest.
“Peatland restoration is a topic that has gained a lot of importance in the light of the climate change discussions and is gaining importance with countries in the North-West Europe, both among Eurosite members and beyond.”
Paul Leadbitter from the North Pennines AONB Partnership, explained:
“As part of our European funded Pennine PeatLIFE project we will be working with our European partner Eurosite to bring together past and current peatland restoration projects to learn from what has gone before, share research and practice and coordinate the future efforts of peatland restoration.”
Any organisations involved in peatland restoration or with relevant research experience can contact Paul Leadbitter, Peatland Programme Manager at the North Pennines AONB Partnership for further information (email@example.com).
Germany has committed just under €2 million (£1.7m) in funding to support the sustainable management and protection of some of the world’s most vulnerable peatlands.