Investing in Peatlands

Delegates from around the world convened in York for a three day summit in Sept 2013: ‘Investing in Peatlands’. Was ever so much passion gathered together in one venue discussing moors, mires, bogs, fens and mosses?  The county of Yorkshire was splendidly represented among organisations and projects pioneering new ways to restore and protect peat landscapes and attract new investment for influencing land management.

The central theme of the conference was about new ways to secure investment partnerships that recognize the massive economic benefits provided to society by peatlands – and the massive future costs of ‘business as usual’ scenarios, especially in relation to greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and biodiversity. Peatlands are at the vanguard of the drive to establish robust economic basis for PES (Payment for Ecosystem Services) schemes.

Ploughed peaty soils in the Vale of Pickering

Ploughed peaty soils in the Vale of Pickering

A key announcement by the IUCN UK Peatland Programme was the challenge to bring a million hectares of peatlands into beneficial management by 2020. If that sounds a lot it’s because it equates to roughly a third of the UK’s entire peatland area.

Here are some more astonishing Peatland Facts from the conference.

1. Globally Peatlands cover just 3% of the land surface but store twice as much carbon as all the worlds forest biomass.

2. In the UK alone peatlands store 3 billion tonnes of Carbon, which is twenty times that of all the UK’s forests.

3. UK is ranked among the top twenty nations in terms of our total peatland area, out of 175.

4. In the EU 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions from arable farmland, comes from cropped peat soil which is kept drained for the purpose.

The IUCN launched an ambitious challenge to restore one million hectares (about a third of the UK peatlands) to good condition or restoration management by 2020. They call upon landowners, government and society at large to recognize the value of peatlands as brought together in the findings of the IUCN UK Commission of Enquiry on Peatlands. They also unveiled their draft Peatland Code an effort to establish quality standards for peatland restoration schemes.

If one needs further convincing that this is a global issue, take a glance at the report from no less an authority than the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, which  has clearly identified in its global good practice guide on peatlands the role of agriculture in mitigating climate change. The main strategies they advocate are: Secure undrained peatlands to prevent emissions; Rewet drained peatlands to reduce emissions; Adapt management of peatlands that cannot be rewetted. It is now recognized that these activities make by far the best long-term investments for carbon emissions-reduction. Never mind about planting trees, investing in hydropower, biofuels and countless other green or renewable technologies in developing countries – we have huge investment potential here in the UK.

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