June 2018 - The importance of peat

Vistoria Squire, project officer for the Welsh Peatlands SMS (South) carrying out a peat bog survey at Abergwesyn Hill common, Powys

In January 2018, a new project was started in Wales, with the National Trust as one of the partners. The Welsh Peatlands Sustainable Management Scheme (SMS) is a collaborative project funded by the Welsh Government’s Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020 and the European Union’s European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. Project Officer Vicky talks in detail about how this will help deliver the Ministerial target of bringing Wales’ peatlands into sustainable management by 2020.

The Peatland Code

This is a voluntary standard for UK peatland projects wishing to market the climate benefit of peatland restoration and this project will be involved in promoting and showcasing the code across Britain. We hope the project will become a national hub for research on peatlands so the information can be shared with communities and researchers through a range of awareness events, guided walks and talks.

The Importance of Peat

Did you know that peatlands only cover around 3% of the world’s surface but contain more carbon than all of the world’s rainforests? Also, out of the total coverage of peat found in the world, 12% is found in the UK.

Peatlands form a unique habitat that supports a variety of plant species as well as insects, birds and mammals. Many at risk species, such as curlew and golden plover, call peatlands home. Peatlands are also a huge store of carbon as the plants that grow there are not able to decompose completely, therefore the carbon in the plants become locked in the peat. Peatlands are one of the UK’s most important terrestrial carbon stores, containing 20 times more carbon than all UK forests.

Peatlands are also a window to the past and have been known to offer up perfectly preserved artefacts from thousands of years ago. In addition the hydrological cycle is also affected by the condition of our peatlands. Much of the water we drink has drained off upland peatlands and is naturally filtered by the peat. They also have a role in flood prevention; a healthy peatland can hold much more water than one actively eroding and so can limit flood damage further downstream.

Surveying Abergwesyn Commons

An estimated 70,000 hectares of upland blanket bog is found in Wales with 2,000 hectares found on Abergwesyn Commons, one of the biggest sites involved in the project.

A view across Abergwesyn Commons
A view across Abergwesyn Commons, Wales, during survey work on the peat bogs
A view across Abergwesyn Commons

Over the last couple of months, we have been focussing on mapping all of the peat haggs (bare peat cliffs), gullies and bare peat pans over Abergwesyn using aerial photos, such as the image below.

Aerial view showing the peat haggs on a section of Abergwesyn Commons
An aerial view highlighting the bare peat cliffs on a section of Abergwesyn Commons, Wales
Aerial view showing the peat haggs on a section of Abergwesyn Commons

This has allowed us to work out where to concentrate our restoration efforts but before we can start the areas need to be surveyed to give us a baseline idea of vegetation dominance and peat depth. This involves walking a 100m x 100m grid and stopping every 100m to record the plant species present and measure the peat depth – it's not as hard as you think. We have long rods, like thin drainage rods, which screw together and stick into the ground until we hit the rock underneath. The deepest we’ve had at Abergwesyn so far is 2.5m, which means it started forming 2500 years ago!

It’s not just Abergwesyn that is part of the project, we will also be working on sites in Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, Brecon Beacons and across North Wales.

To help us with our work we are currently looking for Peat Bog Survey Volunteers to assist on sites across South Wales, if you are interested further information can be found on the National Trust volunteering website.

Do you own a peat bog? Would you like to know more about it? Is your peatland in need of restoration? Would you like to be involved in the Welsh Peatlands project? If you answered yes to any of these, please get in touch as we would love to hear from you.

From one new project to a new member of staff, come back in July to find out what conservation and general day to day tasks Abbi, our newest member of the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire team, has been doing at the sites she looks after.