Protecting Peatlands – The True Implications

Our peatlands in the UK are at great risk. They provide us with so many benefits – climate change, vital habitat and to help prevent flooding…

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by Annette J Beveridge

Our peatlands are of the utmost importance. It is a precious natural habitat and yet, it lacks strong protection. The stark reality is that we have just 10% of this precious habitat remaining in the UK. It is horrifying to consider our natural peatlands being plundered and destroyed to such an event. There are three main types here – blanket bogs, raised bogs, and fens and we have around 13% of the world’s blanket and lowland raised bogs. Change is vital, here’s why.

Peatlands for nature

Peatlands provides vital habitat for many rare species; it is precious for this alone. It is sad but true that the UK is now such a nature-depleted land. We have systematically stood back while our precious landscape and wildlife is eradicated. This is through a lack of awareness no doubt. But it is only when we understand the implications and decide to think and act accordingly that we can make a difference.

The formation

Peat forms over thousands of years. In fact, peat – layers of partially decomposed plant matter can reach 10 metres in depth. But it is slow to form as an increase of just 1mm takes 12 months. Sadly, its destruction is far quicker. Peat helps us to fight against climate change as it stores more carbon than any forest could in the UK. It acts as a filter improving the quality of water and also, as a vital resource to combat flooding.  If we lose just a fraction of our peatland, we release a substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions.  

The sad truth is that we are losing peatland on a global level. In the UK, governments allow peat to be dug up and used for compost in the garden and it is also used as a fuel. Agricultural practices also creates risk as the draining of peatlands lead to tonnes of carbon dioxide being released. We continue to hear about the dreadful act of burning on grouse moorlands but this increases risks too as it can affect carbon storage.  

Government pledge

In 2011, the government in the UK pledged to phase out the use of peat in gardens by 2020. Within the professional horticulture arena, the target to stop using peat was set for 2030. Like so many environmental targets set by the government, this voluntary target has not been reached. It is sadly increasing, not decreasing. Only a small area of peatlands is used for extraction purposes but we must consider whether it is being imported into the country.

What can you do to help? Lobby your MP to raise the issue of tightening laws around the use of peat. Avoid purchasing peat at garden centres and let these businesses know your concerns.

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