Preserving our peatland
Peat is hugely important to the environment – acting as a carbon store, wildlife habitat and flood controller, as well as holding the stories of our past. We’re restoring, conserving and managing the peatlands in our care, to combat climate change and save these precious areas for generations to come.
Why is peat so important?
Peat is vital to the environment, as it helps maintain four areas called ‘ecosystem services’:
- 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.
The risks created by damaged peatbogs
To perform these critical functions, peat must remain wet. Unfortunately, for centuries peat and its vegetation have been cultivated, drained and degraded.
Dry peat is easily eroded and washed away, and can be a fire hazard. Dry peat releases carbon dioxide and is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas. It is therefore critical to keep peat bogs wet.
Peatlands in our care
We look 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 the UK, in soil and vegetation.
Some of our peatland has been damaged in the past by drainage, over-grazing, burning and extraction. We’re working hard to reverse these negative impacts and are now managing and restoring many of sites to create resilient eco-systems, which will increase carbon storage capacity and reduce emissions.
How we’re working to preserve peatland
Providing resilient ecosystems
We’re working hard to reverse peatlands’ decline, managing and conserving them to increase their carbon storage capacity and reduce emissions. We see this as an important function for the land, alongside biodiversity, food production and water storage.
Work includes blocking gullies to stop water draining away – this may look invasive initially, but vegetation slowly grows back across the peat and helps to stop further erosion.
Working in partnership
Many of our projects run in partnership with other organisations. At some sites we were supported by Biffa Award’s major Peatlands for the Future project. This has now finished, but ongoing work continues to ensure greater carbon capture into the future.
Going peat free
The extraction of peat for use in garden compost continues to damage peatland across Europe. We’ve committed to going peat free in all of our gardening work, including at nurseries, gardens and the plants for sale in our shops.
We contributed to the Peatland Programme run by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), which published reviews on burning, water, biodiversity and other subjects, and we sponsored its final international conference in June 2012.
Malham Tarn, one of the places we look after, features as a case study in the conference’s Demonstrating Success booklet (PDF).
Key peatland projects
We care for peatlands through research, conservation and sensitive management. These projects are improving peatlands for future generations and retaining carbon to reduce climate change.
Abergwesyn Common, Powys
Abergwesyn Common is a huge upland of 6,677ha, which had extensive areas of deep peat and blanket bog in poor condition through burning and overgrazing by sheep. With Biffaward’s support, we’ve been able to restore 1,000ha of blanket bog and 600ha of peatland, including 50ha of bare peat.
Dartmoor and the Upper Plym Valley
Well-known for its extensive peat bogs, we’re working with moorland management partners in this area to conserve carbon and promote low-carbon management. Commoners are signed up to a Higher Level Scheme agreement to manage the site for the benefit of wildlife, archaeology and peat.
Holcombe Moor, Lancashire
This moorland plateau near Manchester has been transformed into a ‘giant sponge’ after our team worked with partners to create thousands of peat bunds, tackling the effects of climate change. Working with Moors for the Future Partnership, Natural England and the Holcombe Moor Commoners’ Association, and support from Defra's Moor Carbon fund, we have created 3,500 scallop-shaped banks of peat, which allow water to pool behind them. Work also involved building 403 stone dams and 308 peat dams to further slow the flow of rainwater running off the plateau as well as planting half a million sphagnum moss plugs which will create boggier habitats and hold moisture in the soil.
Malham Tarn Estate, Yorkshire Estate
Recognised as one of the most species-diverse areas in the UK for land above 300m, the land around Malham Tarn (a lake) includes bog, fen, carr, woodland, limestone pavement and grasslands. We’ve been able to halt some of the damaging draining of the bog to improve its condition and that of the Tarn.
Marsden Moor, Yorkshire
We’ve carried out extensive management in recent years to improve the condition of the peat in over 2,000ha of blanket bog and other upland habitats on this wild expanse of moorland.
The Mottisfont Estate in the valley of the River Test has a special floodplain landscape. We’ve opened up the peat and wetland habitats to visitors, and run regular guided walks from Mottisfont Abbey.
Peak District and Dark Peak Estate, Derbyshire
The Peak District is home to the best researched but most chronically eroded peat in the UK. Our ambition is to not only conserve but also restore areas of damaged peat. A famous example is Kinder Scout, where Biffa Award funded a major programme of gully-blocking to stem the peat loss and restore more than 20ha of blanket bog and 50ha of upland heathland. Work then continued apace, funded by United Utilities.
Upper Conwy Project, Gwynedd
The River Conwy rises on the Migneint, one of the largest blanket bogs in Wales. It hosts ground-breaking peatland research projects and has been the focus of an international peatland conference.
Upper Wharfedale, North Yorkshire
This is a stunning landscape of steep, rocky limestone slopes below peat-covered plateaux, but the bog has been severely degraded by drainage and over-grazing. Funding through Biffa Award has enabled us to block 15km (9 miles) of ditches to re-wet the peat and restore 250ha of blanket bog and other mire types.
There are valuable raised bog and other mire habitats on this large estate, but recently the focus has been on researching the impacts of land use on the carbon content of soils. The 15 farms have provided a pilot for a carbon and land usage scheme.
Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire
The Wicken Fen Vision is an ambitious project to create a new landscape-scale 5,300ha nature reserve over the next 100 years in a fenland peat basin near Cambridge. At its heart is 170ha of undrained fen peat, the famous Wicken Fen, and a further 80ha of land restored for nature in the 1950s. We manage the water to let the peatland get wetter and use free-ranging Highland cattle and Konik ponies to help shape the developing habitat.
Peatland in Northern Ireland
With its mild, wet climate, Northern Ireland is the true home of peatbogs. We’re working to look after blanket bog on the top of Divis Mountain, overlooking Belfast; heaths on thinner peats at Fair Head, a coastal headland in Co Antrim; and on Slieve Donard, the highest mountain of the Mournes in Co Down.
We’re restoring a raised bog at The Argory, Co Armagh, by blocking ditches, and removing invading woody growth on the bog surface and denser woodland around the marginal position of the lagg fen.
Once in good condition, the blanket bog on Cushleake Mountain, Co Antrim, was badly burned in 2011. We’re monitoring its recovery and will resurvey over 1,000ha of blanket bog.
Find out how your plants can thrive without using peat-based products and learn about the changes our gardeners have made at the gardens and nurseries in our care.
Find out more about our research into how climate change is affecting essential habitats in our care and discover the work we’re doing to capture more carbon.
Climate change is the single biggest threat to the places we care for. Take a look at our environmental pledges as we adapt, reduce carbon emissions and address the damage already done.
Why is the Holcombe Moor peat restoration so important? Find out more about this invaluable project and the work that’s involved.
With support from the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, we're looking for ways to protect our environment and combat climate change. Find out more about the work we're doing.