What's so special about peat?

Peat fields at Edale, part of the High Peak Estate, Derbyshire

Peat is hugely important to our planet for lots of reasons. It acts as a carbon store, it is a great habitat for wildlife, it has a role in water management, and preserves things well for archaeology.

Peat is of great importance to our planet:

  • as a carbon store – peat holds more carbon than the combined forests of Britain, France and Germany
  • for wildlife – many scarce species inhabit peatlands
  • for water management – peat holds up to 20 times its own weight in water
  • for archaeology – peat preserves a record of past vegetation, landscapes and people

These are what we call ‘ecosystem services’, a comprehensive analysis of which has been provided in the gigantic National Ecosystem Assessment – an amazing achievement.

To perform these critical functions, peat must be wet. Unfortunately, for centuries, peat and its vegetation have been cultivated, drained and degraded. Dry peat is easily eroded and washed away, and is also a fire hazard. Dry peat releases carbon dioxide and is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas.

The Trust looks after 40 peatland Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 3 per cent of raised bogs, significant fens and valley mires, and huge tracts of blanket bog. Our peatlands in England and Wales hold 2 per cent of the total carbon, in soil and vegetation. Some of our peatland has been damaged in the past by drainage, over-grazing and burning.

We’re working hard to reverse the negative decline and are now managing and restoring many of our sites to create resilient eco-systems, which will increase carbon storage capacity and reduce emissions. We regard this as a major function of land, along with biodiversity, food production and water storage.

Read more about the work underway on some of our key peatland sites. We often work in partnership and at some sites we were supported by Biffaward’s major Peatlands for the Future project; although that project has now ended, the work that it began continues.

The IUCN Peatland Programme has published reviews on burning, water, biodiversity and other subjects. We sponsored the final international conference of the Peatland Programme in June 2012 and its properties feature in several case studies, notably Migneint and Malham Tarn: Case Studies I and T in the conference’s Demonstrating Success booklet.

Take a fresh look at peat

There’s a wonderful world of peat waiting to be discovered through walking, conservation or just enjoying the scenery. Look out for events organised by peatland properties near you or download a walk and visit any time.