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Taking peat core samples on a North Pennines moor
Taking peat core samples on a North Pennines moor

National project probes peat's role

New research is to find out how peat reduces the effects of climate change

The national project will map the depth and carbon content of peatlands across England for the first time - and determine how valuable they could be in helping to reduce the effects of future climate change.

The National Peat Survey is a joint project of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership and Natural England and represents the first time the extent, depth and carbon content of England’s peat has been mapped.

Despite being a small country England has a wealth of peatlands which are found across the country from the fens of East Anglia to the Border Mires and include the vast blanket bogs of the North Pennines. Internationally acknowledged as important habitats for wildlife, there is now increasing interest in the carbon that peatlands store and their ability to lock away ever more carbon when well managed.

Carbon stores

Conservationists know that peatlands are huge carbon stores, but there remains a lot of uncertainty around these carbon estimates. The National Peat Survey will gather existing and new data to establish just how important these landscapes are in terms of locking up carbon.  The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that carbon released from degraded peat contributes to 10% of the global total. 

Matthew Shepherd, Natural England’s Senior Environmental Specialist said: “Our peatlands are among our most important carbon stores. Thicker peat stores more carbon, but poorly managed peatlands can release this carbon into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. With the data from this project, we’ll have a better understanding of where our best peatland carbon stores are so we can work to protect and manage them.

“Healthy peatlands contribute so much to our lives – beautiful wild landscapes, internationally important wildlife, clean water and flood management as well as carbon storage. This project should show that by sharing resources, expertise and information, and working together with partners, we can get a better understanding of our peatlands than ever before.”

Review

An important part of the project will be to review the existing carbon science of peatlands and develop a simple cost effective survey method that can be used on any peatland.  Paul Leadbitter, Peatland Programme Manager for the North Pennines AONB Partnership said: “The idea is to tap into a cooperative spirit and collect information that is already held by organisations across the country such as charities, National Park Authorities and AONB Partnerships. By tapping into the existing data and developing a robust survey method we will be able to significantly increase our understanding of peatland carbon in England.”

Peatlands are internationally protected habitats and are as important in regulating global carbon dioxide levels as tropical rainforest. They are sensitive habitats and require careful management to ensure that they continue to store carbon. The National Peat Project will run until September 2012.

Released: 12 December 2011

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