Saving the Cinderella of UK habitats

It’s been dubbed a Cinderella habitat, an undervalued, forgotten part of our world, full of hidden wonders and potential. Why peatland is worth saving…

By: Paul Dicken,   3 minutes

Peatlands cover 10% of the UK; saturated in water, which excludes oxygen, it is a unique ecosystem where not everything can flourish but where certain plants and animals thrive. It’s a land of hidden magnitude.

Our peatlands past is a story of misguided alterations in search of productivity, in a world that saw no value in the ecosystem as it was. Farming, forestry, grouse hunting, now increasingly threatened by human activity altering the climate, just 13% of England’s peatlands are in a near-natural state, according to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

Thankfully, that’s beginning to change, from Bodmin Moor to the Yorkshire bogs, and beyond, peatland is being restored in a more concerted effort than ever before.

“ Peatland covers just 3% of the world’s surface but holds 30% of the world’s soil carbon. ”

Orders of magnitude

On the surface, peatland can seem bleak; often wet and windy, it’s apparently inhospitable to humankind. But beneath the surface there’s a different story. Peatland locks in decomposition and carbon, and naturally manages water, creating a rich material that’s exploited for human use, but is far more valuable to us left to thrive as a natural environment.

Peatland covers just 3% of the world’s surface but holds 30% of the world’s soil carbon. It’s a wetland that holds and filters water, helping create clean drinking water, reducing flood risk and supporting a diverse ecosystem, from mosses to newts to waders.

As governments, NGOs and businesses explore nature-based solutions to removing carbon from the atmosphere, peatland’s perceived value is increasing.

Restoring and expanding peatlands provides a way of ensuring carbon stays in the ground rather than being released into the atmosphere. And over time, in common with many nature-based solutions to fighting climate, such as tree planting, peatland has the potential to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Balancing act

Last year, the UK’s Environment Agency published a review of the evidence behind potential carbon offsetting approaches. The agency defines carbon offsetting as the “practice of reducing or removing greenhouse gas emissions to balance ongoing gas emissions.”

That review concluded that upland peat restoration can achieve substantial reductions to current emissions, and that lowland peat restoration has good potential to do the same but less research was available for lowland projects. Both were identified as holding potential for robust carbon offsetting.

“ “Of the eight validated projects…it calculates 167,442 tonnes of CO2e emissions reductions over the lifetime of the projects.” ”

To create a natural capital value for peat, and encourage investment in peatland restoration, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) UK has created a Peatland Code to quantify and certify the impact restoration has.

At the end of 2021, the Peatland Code had 48 projects registered covering 8000 hectares (ha) of peatland restoration. Of the eight validated projects, across England, Scotland and Wales, covering 900ha, it calculates 167,442 tonnes of CO2e emissions reductions over the lifetime of the projects.

Emitting, reducing, offsetting

At Stranger Collective, we’re always looking at how we can reduce our emissions, and environmental impact. That means sourcing our energy from renewable energy providers and trying to contribute to emissions reductions to balance the greenhouse gas emissions we do produce, measured as a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

In 2021, as part of our submission to the Carbon Disclosure Project we estimated what our CO2e emissions were and made a donation to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, actively involved in peatland restoration in the north of England. That donation supports the Trust to block drainage channels, plant mosses and create the conditions for peatland to develop again.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust are part of a valuable coalition emerging around the world saving a Cinderella habitat that will hopefully get more of the attention it deserves this year.


Find out more about the wonder within Yorkshire bogs on the Yorkshire Peat Partnership bog blog.

Discover how partnerships in the north are coming together to revive the UK’s upland peat environments as part of the Great North Bog.

Take look at some peatland on the other side of the world with photographer Luján Agusti’s shots of peatland on Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego.

Image credits:

Header image: Peatland area on Mainland, Shetland. Alan Morris, via Adobe Stock

Degraded and reviving peatland at Nidderdale – Yorkshire Peat Partnership

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