Peat restoration on grouse moors ‘cutting tons of carbon emissions’

Left untouched, dried and damaged peat emits CO2 into the air, writes Sam Hancock

Monday 15 March 2021 00:00 GMT
Grouse moors have been criticised for controlled burning of heather on peatland, seen on right of fence, which managers say is necessary to reduce wildfire risks
Grouse moors have been criticised for controlled burning of heather on peatland, seen on right of fence, which managers say is necessary to reduce wildfire risks (Moorland Association)

More than 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide are being prevented from entering the atmosphere every year due to acres of peat restoration, grouse moor managers in England and Wales have claimed.

A survey of Moorland Association (MA) members suggests 3,157 hectares (7,800 acres) of bare peat has been restored on their land in the past 10 years.

It also found that 2,945km (1,830 miles) of old agricultural drains, put in to make the land more productive for farming, have been blocked to re-wet the upland peat to protect it, reduce run-off and prevent carbon emissions escaping – helping to restore the equivalent of a further 6,000 hectares.

As a result, the organisation estimates some 61,126 tons of carbon dioxide – which is emitted into the atmosphere from dried out, damaged peat – are being saved every year.

Read more: Tree mulcher machines used to restore ‘nationally important’ peat habitat

It means MA members have already achieved a quarter of the work needed to meet government targets, announced by Rishi Sunak last year, to restore 35,000 hectares by 2025.

Grouse moor managers have long been criticised by environmentalists for the controlled burning of heather on peatland, which the managers say is necessary to reduce wildfire risks.

A partial ban on burning heather and other vegetation on protected blanket bog was recently brought in by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to prevent damage to peat formation, protect wildlife habitats and help meet targets to cut emissions.

But climate change groups say the move will only stop the practice on a small number of peatlands and have urged ministers to consider greater peat protections.

MA director Amanda Anderson said upland managers were doing what they could to protect peat but warned there should be more focus on tackling the carbon emissions from lowland peatland.

“Moorland managers have invested significant time and money to play their part in carbon capture, improving habitats for rare wildlife and mitigating the risk of downstream flooding,” Ms Anderson said.

“These results show how our members are delivering on their commitment to restore historically damaged areas of peat, manage water storage and plant trees where appropriate to ensure the wide-ranging benefits from these conservation measures can be realised.

“However, there needs to be a concerted effort across all peatlands to meet government targets – beyond what we can contribute.”

The government’s own advisers have said the goal to restore 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025 is not nearly ambitious enough – they estimate the figure should stand at around 300,000. The Climate Change Committee added that, by 2050, some 1.4 million hectares of peatlands need restoring across the UK.

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