Peat landscapes can help us both limit and adapt to climate change. This is because, if managed properly, peat acts as a carbon store to prevent carbon being lost to the atmosphere, as well as absorbing heavy rainfall to prevent flooding downstream.
The Peatscapes project in the North Pennines aims to show how important peat is to climate change as well to flood protection, wildlife, and the local economy.
The UK’s peatlands contain more carbon than all of the forests in France and the UK combined. And over a quarter of England’s peatland lies in the North Pennines. This area straddles parts of Northumberland, Durham and Cumbria.
Just as glaciers lock water in a frozen state for many centuries, healthy wet peatlands store carbon. As peat forms, it locks any carbon into plant matter and this prevents the carbon from being released into the atmosphere.
For decades the peatland on the North Pennines has been drained in an attempt to make it more agriculturally productive. This has dried large areas of the moorlands, with some serious consequences. These include erosion problems, leading to more sediment and colour in the water, negative effects on habitats and wildlife and reduction in the capacity of peatlands to moderate flooding and store carbon.
What we did and why
Over the past two winters the project has blocked more than 500km of grips (drainage ditches), restoring over 1,250 hectares of blanket bog.
Grip blocking is the name given to the method used to re-wet the peat. This involves blocking the grips that drain water off the moors. Water is stored until the blocked grips are full and the surrounding land saturated. Only then, when the land has reached full capacity, does the rainwater drain into the river catchment. Other threats to peatlands which have been looked at through this project include over-grazing and burning.
This grip blocking can assist the adaptation effort by providing valuable habitat for biodiversity and by storing water, helping to manage water resources and flood risk.
‘The success of this project has been due to many things, not least the strength and support of the steering group, funders and most importantly farmers, landowners and their agents,’ says Bob Carrick, project coordinator for the North East region.
Peatscapes was due to have ended in March 2009. But the project has been so successful that funding is being sought for Peatscapes 2.
Who was involved