For peat’s sake: new funding to fight climate change

20 July 2023 by Tom Townsend
blog author

​More than £7.5million is to be ploughed into the improvement of lowland peat to reduce carbon dioxide emission levels and help regulate our climate.

The new government funding aims to bolster new action following recommendations from Robert Caudwell, the Chair of the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force.

Farmers will receive more support through the investment, which is also expected to strengthen drought resilience and help develop innovative water management projects.

What is peat?

​ Peat is an accumulation of decomposed organic materials and as it contains more than half of the country’s terrestrial carbon stores, it is a vital nature-based solution in the battle against climate change.

Peat soils, which store twice as much carbon as forests, are under threat due to them drying out from drainage to create agricultural land.

Why is rewetting peat so crucial?

​ Our UK peatlands store an amazing 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon and can alleviate flooding but they are drying out and will no longer store carbon, instead emitting it back into the atmosphere. Rewetting will help generate more peat and absorb new carbon as well as continue to lock carbon underground.

Rewetting them will not only help fight climate change but will also protect habitats for wildlife, birds and plants.

According to the government, there is currently only one percent of England’s lowland peatlands remaining in a near-natural state and it needs urgent preservation, in the form of rewetting, to boost food security and wetland biodiversity, protect communities from flooding and reduce CO2 emissions.

What is the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force Chair’s report?

Robert Caudwell has released a report recommending necessary government action for the sustainable management of lowland peatlands.

He said: “All the evidence demonstrates that reducing carbon emissions from lowland peat is vital as part of the United Kingdom government’s plan to tackle climate change.

“The report and the UK government’s response are important first steps in a journey that will require partnership between all stakeholders, and I am confident that the work that is already underway will give farmers opportunities to develop their businesses and contribute to the challenge of net zero.”

The Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force was created by the government in 2020 to explore how to improve the country’s lowland farmed peat and ensure the longevity of future productive agriculture for years to come.

Mr Caudwell made 14 recommendations for peat soil management to government and the wider sector which include investing in water storage and management, technical advice on keeping peat wetter, creating private finance opportunities and adopting the task force’s roadmap for farming on rewetted peat (paludiculture).

How will the new funding be allocated?

The funding will accelerate deeper understanding of the lowland peat water challenge and will also pay for the installation of infrastructure and monitoring technology to enable more control of water levels in these regions.

Two pilot projects will receive the investment - firstly, the Lowland Agricultural Peat Small Infrastructure Pilot will receive £5.45m to support infrastructure installation and monitoring technology to control water levels for peat preservation and rewetting. The Association of Drainage Authorities will help deliver this project.

The Lowland Agricultural Peat Water Discovery Pilot, delivered by the Environment Agency, will receive the remaining £2.2m, which will allow a collaboration between local and water peatland partnerships.

Alan Lovell, Chair of the Environment Agency said: “The report findings combined with further research and development provide useful support and incentives to farmers looking to transition to more climate friendly farming of peat soils. This is set out in our National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England and Roadmap.”

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England said: “Lowland peatlands play an important role in combating climate change, by keeping carbon in the land and out of the air. Working with land managers and others, it is imperative we find ways to support livelihoods and produce what society needs while at the same time halting the degradation of peat soils.”

Tom Townsend, Principal Consultant – Agriculture, Food and Beverage at Acre, said: “Restoration of our peatlands has been a challenge for many years. It’s great to see such significant steps being taken, which hopefully signals a shift in mindset towards this vital resource.”

The government also announced a £5m Paludiculture Exploration Fund grant scheme supporting 12 projects.

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