Monday, 21 March 2016

Landowners and Managers: what is the state of your peatlands?

Actively eroding peatland
If landowners and managers are unsure about the state of their peatlands, the Peatland Condition Assessment Guide, which has been published by the Trust, provides practical information to help assess their condition.

The assessment process does not require specialist botanical knowledge. Using easily observed features, and illustrative photographs, the guide identifies four categories of peatland condition: near-natural, modified, drained and actively eroding. Identifying these categories is the starting point for establishing the benefit to peatland condition that might result from changes in management and whether or not any restoration work is required. 

The peatland condition categories also link through to Defra-funded research associated with the Peatland Code, and the categories can also be used to estimate greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands. This feature may be useful in making a case for funding peatland restoration projects (see note).

The guide summarises some key points about peatlands and provides some detail about their key features:

Key Points
  • Peatlands are important for carbon storage, water regulation and biodiversity.
  • The main peat-forming species are Sphagnum mosses and sedges like cotton grass.
  • These species can be lost through drying of the peat surface as a result of natural and man-induced changes to drainage, burning and grazing regimes.
  • The primary aims of peatland restoration are: re-vegetating bare peat and re-establishing peat-forming mosses and sedges through re-wetting.
Key Features
  • Peatlands are not only important within the context of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change; they also support wildlife, food production and good water quality.
  • Bare peat is worth nothing; it has little value for grazing, game, wildlife, landscape or access. 
  • Peat erosion is not only a direct loss of soil; it also results in the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. 
  • Eroded peat can end up in watercourses with implications for water quality, fish and private water supplies.
  • The increased interest in peatlands is based on the growing global awareness of how important peatlands are for the range of natural (ecosystem) services that these areas provide.
  • Improving peatland condition can provide multiple benefits for a range of natural (ecosystem) services.
Peatland after ditch blocking
The guide is available to download from the Heather Trust’s website.  I also have some printed copies; please contact Anne Stoddart at the Trust, if you would like some of these.  There is no charge for the printed copies, but I would welcome a donation to cover our costs.

I have long advocated that we need to direct more effort at raising the level of awareness within the land management community about peatland.  We need to consider peatland as a valuable asset.  We must accept that it needs sensitive management and landowners and managers are the people to provide this.  I hope this guide will allow landowners and managers to form their own opinion of the state of their peatlands.  If it is established that some management changes would be beneficial or some restoration work is required, I will be pleased to make suggestions about who might be available to help.

I am grateful to Dr Dick Birnie from Landform Research for providing the driving force to produce this guide and to Dr Mary-Ann Smyth and Dr Emily Taylor from the Crichton Carbon Centre for helping with the drafting process.  I am pleased that the Trust has been able to fund the production of the guide and I thank the Peatland Action project for the financial support, which has reduced the cost to the Trust. 

This guide has been produced as a companion guide to the ‘Field guide to Spagnum mosses in bogs’, which was published by the Field Studies Council in 2012, with support from the Trust and other organisations.  The sphagnum guide is only available in printed form – I have a few copies available and it can be ordered from the FSC’s website.

Note: For further information, see the output from the Defra-funded project ‘Developing Peatland Carbon Metrics and Financial Modelling to Inform the Pilot Phase UK Peatland Code’:
·               Presentation given in October 2014 – outlines the approach
·              Full project report - June 2015

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