Peatlands are areas of land formed over thousands of years from carbon-rich dead and decaying plants in water-logged conditions. This ‘Cinderella’ habitat – overlooked and undervalued – covers less than 3% of the land surface of the Earth, but contains twice as much carbon as the world’s forests. Far from the hostile, barren wastelands that peatlands are often seen as, these stunning landscapes provide irreplaceable ecosystem services.
Following an 18 month inquiry involving over 300 individuals and 50 organisations the findings announced today present clear evidence of the importance of the UK’s peatlands as a huge carbon store locking up over 3 billion tonnes in the peat. Peatlands are also found at the source of around 70% of the UK’s drinking water and they provide internationally important habitat for many rare and threatened animals and plants. The great importance of peatlands as an historic archive is demonstrated in the discovery of Bronze aged preserved bodies and their unique record of past climate change.
The Inquiry found that much of the UK’s peatlands have been damaged, largely due to the way they have been managed, and as a result a significant amount of carbon is leaking into the atmosphere. This is particularly alarming as a loss of only 5% of the carbon stored in peat would equate to the UK’s total annual green house gas emissions. Damaged peatlands also impact on the quality of our drinking water at source, leading to discolouration and associated increased treatment costs for water companies and consumers.
Clifton Bain, Director of the IUCN UK Peatland Programme said:
“The good news is that this Inquiry has shown that peatland restoration not only benefits wildlife, but has measureable carbon savings, and can quickly reduce the cost of treating drinking water.
“In identifying a clear strategy for action to bring our peatlands back from the brink, the Inquiry points the way forward to avoid the social and environmental costs of further deterioration.”
Jonathan Hughes, Director of Conservation, Scottish Wildlife Trust said:
“We’ve always had a strong environmental case for investment in peatlands, but with this landmark publication from the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, we now have a clear and compelling economic case too.”
Stuart Brooks, Chief Executive of the John Muir Trust said:
“The culmination of work by the IUCN UK Peatland Programme and the many partners involved has helped to clarify the positive role that peatland conservation can make to the UK’s economy and environment. There is now an overwhelming case for investing in the future of our peatlands as a cost effective measure for reducing carbon emissions. It has the added advantage of being great for wildlife too. We really just need to get on with it.”