Protecting peatland could slow climate change

Could protecting Britain’s peatlands be pivotal in its fight to slow climate change?

Conservationist Christopher Dean believes so.

“It's important as keeping this in the ground here as it is important not mining coal and putting coal back into the atmosphere."

Peatlands take carbon dioxide - or CO2 - out of the atmosphere as the vegetation on top builds plant structures and carbon settles in the layers of peat which have developed over thousands of years.

Rising global temperatures are drying them out, making them susceptible to wildfires and turning what should be carbon sinks into carbon sources.

Dean and his team are constructing dams in natural gullies to stop the moorland from drying out and eroding.

They are also planting sphagnum moss which holds 20 times its own weight in water to keep the peat moist.

Dean is confident this could be an easy fix.

“If we invest in turning this landscape into good ecological condition, it will take CO2 out the atmosphere for us. Lock it up in the peat and it will be a fantastic good news story for climate change. And it's, it's something that we could do very quickly.”

In England’s marshy Fenlands, a pilot project is testing new types of sustainable crops that can grow in re-wetted peatlands.

The “Water Works" project is run by the Wildlife Trust, alongside scientists and academics from the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and from the University of East London.

Lorna Parker is the project’s restoration manager.

“What we're trying to do here is demonstrate a new way that we could form peat soils and still bringing economic income for farmers, but actually trap that carbon in the soil with a new form of crops."

The team hope that sustainable crops, such as wild celery, typha and reeds, could be used in a range of industries including food, construction and medicine.

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