Restoring peatlands to soak-up carbon and improve water quality

Landscape on peatlands

Credit: Maksim Safaniuk/GettyImages

UK peatlands currently lock away more than three billion tonnes of carbon, greater than the amount of carbon soaked up every year by all of the world’s oceans combined. They also act as a home to rare wildlife, a source for clean drinking water, and provide natural flood alleviation. Yet, due to years of damage, 80% of the UK’s peatlands are no longer in a healthy state.

NERC scientists informed the development of the Peatland Code, the UK’s first regulated scheme that provides businesses with a means to invest in peatland restoration projects through carbon offsetting.

In 2018, the UK Peatland Strategy set a challenge of ensuring two million hectares of peatland is in good condition or under restoration management by 2040. To achieve this goal private, as well as public, funding is needed.

To facilitate this, in 2015 NERC scientists helped the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s UK Peatland Programme establish the Peatland Code, the UK’s first certification standard for UK peatland projects wishing to market the climate benefits of peatland restoration.

There are currently four validated projects under the scheme, with six under development and more in the pipeline. The four validated projects together cover 450 hectares of peatland, which equates to an estimated GHG emissions reduction of 101,944 tonnes of CO2.

NERC-funded scientists have also been working with Yorkshire Water to pioneer ways of restoring peat uplands. Since the 1980s, a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Leeds has worked in collaboration with Yorkshire Water, building on underpinning NERC science to develop, evaluate and implement peatland management strategies to reduce the significant deterioration in raw water quality experienced by the company.

The team developed spatial maps to show which areas of land have the potential to generate greatest water discolouration and where improvements could be best achieved via land management interventions. More recently, they have modelled water discharge and DOC from peatlands under differing climate change and land management scenarios. These results will inform future water planning and investment decisions.

Last updated: 11 March 2021

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