Natural England has launched a comprehensive review of the condition of England's peatlands and the vital role they play in combating climate change. 'England's Peatlands � Carbon Storage and Greenhouse Gases', provides detailed mapping information on the extent and condition of England's peatlands. Alarmingly, the report has found that almost three quarters of the deep peat area in England is now damaged, showing physical signs of degradation or subject to inappropriate management such as drainage, regular burning or cultivation. In essence, the mechanism that would allow England's peatlands to actively store up new reserves of carbon has been turned off. The high level of damage means that the reservoir of 580 million tonnes of carbon stored within the peat is now slowly leaking back into the atmosphere. The report estimates that, as a result, our damaged peatlands are releasing almost three million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year � equivalent to the average emissions of over 350,000 households. Helen Phillips, Natural England Chief Executive, said: "This report is a wake-up call � England's peatlands are a crucial buffer against climate change but have been extensively damaged by centuries of inappropriate management. We have to stop the rot and ensure that peatlands are properly looked after as one of our most precious environmental resources." The ways in which peat has been damaged vary widely. Around 40% of deep lowland fen peat is now under cultivation and a further 22% is drained for intensive livestock grazing. Some 30% of upland blanket peat is under rotationally burnt moorland. Over a fifth of blanket peat has been dried out by shallow moorland drains called "grips". 14% are marked by 'haggs' and gullies � the erosion features that form as peat becomes exposed and is washed away. The report makes it clear that the widespread restoration of our degraded peatlands by re-wetting dried out bogs and minimising damaging practices could substantially reduce these carbon losses and cost-effectively deliver an important contribution to meeting the UK's carbon targets. Helen Philips concluded: "We can no longer approach peatlands as limitless resources that we can exploit without consequence. Their condition has major implications for our response to climate change, the alleviation of flooding, the quality of our water supplies and the future of many rare and important species. Our report has shown the value of peatland restoration in the battle against climate change and we should do all we can to give peatlands a more sustainable future."


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.