Funding set to kickstart the restoration of peatlands

Konik ponies grazing at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in the wet fen landscape
Published : 13 Jan 2022

Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve in the Cambridgeshire Fens and Heigham Holmes in the Norfolk Broads are both set to benefit from a “discovery grant” by the Government to kickstart the restoration of peatland habitats in the fight against climate change.

Good news for the Fens

The Fens East Peat Partnership, of which Wicken Fen is a part of has been awarded £815,877 to explore the feasibility of restoring peatlands in the Fens. 

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust are leading the project on behalf of The National Trust, Natural England, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB and the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire. These organisations have been working together across the Fens for many years through the Fens for the Future partnership. 

Sarah Smith, General Manager at Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve said: 

“In the wake of the climate conference in Glasgow this is a really important announcement for the Fens. Wicken Fen is already important for nature, but this funding will help us take things a step further. We will be exploring opportunities to restore peat on Sedge Fen, Burwell Fen and Tubney Fen, with the intention of becoming an internationally significant store of carbon.”

Peatlands are Earth’s largest terrestrial carbon store, holding more than twice the amount of carbon in all the world’s forests. They cover 10.9% of England’s land area. Unfortunately, 87% of our peatlands are degraded. In this state, they do not capture and store carbon but emit an estimated 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year.

The fenland landscape at Wicken Fen
View across the fens at Wicken Fen
The fenland landscape at Wicken Fen
More good news for the Broads

A new partnership led by the Broads Authority, has also been awarded this new grant, to build carbon storage and help our places adapt to climate change in Norfolk.

While the Broads National Park stores vast amounts of carbon, safely locked up in its wet fen and reedbeds, nearly a quarter of its deep peat soils are drained for agriculture, which releases greenhouse gases. In fact, around one million tonnes of carbon have been lost from the Broads in the past 40 years.  

Carbon-rich peatland ecosystems such as those in the Broads provide multiple benefits to the environment, including a net cooling effect on climate, reduction of flood risk, and supporting biodiversity. Healthy peatlands can reduce flood risk by slowing the flow of water from the uplands, and by providing floodplain storage in the lowlands.

Chris Bielby, Countryside Manager for the Norfolk Coast & Broads, said:

“I’m delighted that the partnership has been awarded this funding. It will allow us to plan the next steps for our conservation management at Heigham Holmes in the Upper Thurne. This 180-hectare site in the National Park is already really important for nature, but this funding will help us to plan for its future. 

“We believe this site has huge potential to support a peat-forming habitat that will capture and store carbon; key to our local efforts in the global fight against climate change. The project will also benefit species such as bittern, crane and marsh harrier, as well as help to conserve water resources in the summer and manage flood risk in the winter.”

The Government’s Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme aims to capture this carbon by setting 35,000 ha of degraded peatland on a path to restoration by 2025. This will help deliver the UK’s Net Zero target. It will contribute to the Nature Recovery Network with wider benefits to biodiversity, water quality and natural flood management.

The funding will be delivered by Natural England and will help unlock barriers to peatland restoration, enabling projects that would struggle to gain funding to be in a position to apply for future rounds of peat restoration funding.

Sunset at Heigham Holmes, Norfolk.
8 geese flying across with a field below that is orange from the sunset behind the photographer.
Sunset at Heigham Holmes, Norfolk.