P2 – Protecting bogs
Project P2: Beyond reducing the extraction of peat for horticulture, what are the options for protecting and restoring peat bogs? – is focusing on what the Government is planning on doing to achieve the protection and restoration of English peat bogs.
There is a need to decouple the phasing out of peat use in horticulture from the protection and restoration of English peat bogs. Whilst on active extraction sites cessation of extraction is a necessary first step to restoration, the ceasing of extraction will not protect/restore either these sites or the many others not being used for peat extraction. Likewise ending the sales of peat in the UK does not automatically restore peat bogs. What is the Government planning on doing to actually achieve the protection and restoration of English peat bogs? What is the Government’s position on the protection and restoration of peat bogs in other parts of the UK and overseas? What can it do to protect them from harm?
Project Lead: Defra
Dependencies: None (although if P1 does not decouple the issue this will need to be rethought)
Deadline: This is a long term piece of work and has been decoupled from the Task Force’s primary aim of moving towards sustainable growing media. However, Defra will take forward work in this area and report back to the Task Force on progress.
Much is already being done by the public, private and third sectors – often in partnership – to protect and restore peat bogs. This includes activity on both upland peat (from which no extraction occurs for horticultural use) and lowland peat. Examples of existing action protecting and restoring lowland peat include:
- Natural England has intervened directly to buy out peat extraction licences and restore former extraction sites in order to deliver obligations under the EU Habitats Directive
- Higher Level Stewardship directly funds the re-wetting of peat
- AONB and SSSI designations can be helpful in preventing damage to peat that is in wet, peat-forming condition
- Two of the newly announced (27 February 2012) Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) for England are focused on improving lowland peat habitats (The Humberhead Levels NIA and the Meres and Mosses of the Marches NIA). Further details are available here.
- Various business and NGO-led major restoration and habitat creation projects (for example the Great Fen project and the Wicken Fen Vision).
In addition to specific restoration work, we know that one of the greatest influences on the ecosystems services provided by peat bogs and peatlands is land use. For example, around 80% of England’s peatland is drained and used mainly for intensive farming in the lowlands, and extensive farming and grouse moors in the uplands – and drained peat cannot provide the range of ecosystems services (including carbon sequestration and water storage) associated with wet peat.
The first part of this project is therefore focussed on drawing together existing evidence on the spatial distribution of peat soils in England, and mapping this alongside information on land use and environmental designations in order to understand at a high level which peat bogs / peatlands are the most vulnerable, and what levers are already in place to protect and restore peat bogs and peatlands. Defra is also funding new research to evaluate greenhouse gas fluxes and carbon balances for lowland peatland systems in England and Wales (to meet the Natural Environment White Paper commitment to “undertake a significant research programme over the next four years to explore how best to manage our lowland peatlands in a way that supports efforts to tackle climate change.”). Details of this project are available on the Defra website.
In terms of providing further protection for peat bogs, the initial feeling from this project is that, given the nature of ecosystems services provided by peat bogs, a local, site-specific approach to understanding the issues and trade-offs is likely to deliver the greatest benefits (rather than a centrally-managed inventory or strategy). Further work in this project will explore whether there is a role for government in facilitating or enabling such a local approach, and if so, what this might entail.
However, as well as the role of government in protecting and restoring peat bogs, it is clear that there is a strong rationale for businesses to channel funding into this area in order to deliver particular ecosystem services (for example in the context of carbon or water purification). We will be working closely with Defra colleagues who are developing a Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) action plan to explore whether there are specific opportunities to be exploited in this area. Outputs from this work will also be made available to the Ecosystems Markets Task Force (also established in the Natural Environment White Paper), which is reviewing opportunities for business from expanding green goods, services, investment vehicles and markets.
Both of the above will rely on a good understanding of the ecosystem services provided by peat (including both ‘fen’ peat and lowland raised bogs). However, a detailed assessment or valuation of ecosystem services associated with particular bog is not within the scope of this project.