The government has recently set out plans to restore England's peatlands. A new action plan is going to be backed by over £50 million between 2021 and 2025. But why are peatlands such a hot topic, and why should we care about them?
Q. What are peatlands?
A. Peat is an organic matter, and is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation. Peatlands are areas consisting largely of peat or peat bogs, and are located across the UK, particularly in northern areas such as the Lake District and the Pennines. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, peatland habitat makes up around 10% of the UK's land area.
Q. Why are peatlands so important?
A. Peatlands are the largest natural carbon store. As peat prevents organic matter from fully decomposing, it stores large amounts of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. In addition to this key reason, peatlands are critical for preserving biodiversity, as they are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. Various mosses, butterflies, toads and many more organisms call peatlands home. Peatlands also help to control flooding.
Q. How have they been damaged?
A. Up until recently, there has been a lack of awareness about the benefits offered by peatlands. With climate change, carbon and sustainability all fairly recent priorities, peatlands have been severely overexploited and damaged in the past. Converting peatlands for agricultural use, burning and mining for fuel, and drainage have all destroyed large areas of peatland globally, causing huge amounts of carbon dioxide to enter the atmosphere. Peat is also still used in many compost brands, causing peatlands to be destroyed unnecessarily.
Q. What is being done now to protect them?
A. There has now been global recognition of the importance of preserving peatlands. In the UK, the government's plans include restoring upland peat and making fenland farming more sustainable. The new Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme aims to support the restoration of 35,000 hectares of degraded peatland in England, which will go some way to turning peatlands into a store, not a source, of carbon emissions. The Veolia Environmental Trust has also played its part by awarding £80,000 to areas of conservation in the North West in order to preserve peatlands. All of this is especially important as we draw ever closer to the UK's 2050 deadline for Net Zero.
The government has also announced that the sale of products containing peat to householders will be banned from 2024. With many of the 'all purpose' composts favoured by gardeners containing peat, many brands will need to rethink their product lines. Many householders will also need to rethink their choice in compost, with options like Veolia's Pro-Grow offering a more sustainable, peat-free alternative. With efforts now being focused on protecting and restoring peatlands from households up to government level, it is hoped that we can utilise this vital carbon store as we reduce emissions on the journey to Net Zero.
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