World Wetland Day: Protect our Peatlands

Lucy McCulloch is an Environmental Consultant

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As we celebrate World Wetlands Day, it provides a compelling opportunity to reflect on the value wetlands and peatlands bring to the United Kingdom.

What are wetlands?

Wetlands sit at the interface of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and exhibit unique characteristics with vegetation specially adapted to these conditions. The formation of wetlands hinges on three key components: the soil, a high-water table, and specialised vegetation. The interplay of these elements creates anaerobic conditions, resulting in an environment devoid of oxygen.

Within the soil, anaerobic conditions develop as vegetation consumes available oxygen. The slower movement of gases through water, compared to air, inhibits oxygen replacement. This anaerobic environment has broader implications: oxygen, vital for many microorganisms responsible for plant decomposition, is scarce.

Consequently, dead plant material fails to decompose, gradually transforming over time into what we know as peat. This can be called carbon sequestration, which involves locking the carbon stored in plants into the peat. Peatlands, characterised by a significant presence of peat, cover approximately 10% of the UK's land surface (20% in Scotland).

Why are peatlands important?

Despite peatlands encompassing only about 3% of the global surface, they hold a staggering 30% of the world's soil carbon. Recognising the critical role of peatlands in carbon storage, concerted efforts are being made globally, and within the UK, to protect and restore these vital ecosystems.

In Scotland, where 80% of peatlands are degraded due to overgrazing, drainage for pastoral use, and erosion, there is a growing movement to restore these wetlands. The restoration process revolves around reinstating the three crucial components that lead to wetland formation: the soil, the water table, and vegetation.

How can we restore peatlands?

Of utmost importance in the restoration process is re-establishing the water table, creating anaerobic conditions that lock in the peat. The primary cause of CO2 loss to the atmosphere from wetlands is the drying out of peatlands, which induces oxygen saturation and prompts peat decomposition. Additional methods involve mitigating erosion and revegetating bare patches of peat. For more information on peatland restoration methods, refer to Peatland ACTION - Technical Compendium.

What WRC can do for you?

At WRc, we specialise in conducting peatland restoration feasibility studies, identifying suitable areas for restoration, and recommending appropriate restorative methods. If you have any inquiries about the peatland restoration process, please feel free to reach out to one of our experts.

Written by Samuel Jarvis

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Lucy McCulloch

Graduate Environmental Consultant

Lucy joined RSK in January 2022 in the role of Graduate Environmental Consultant. She undertakes technical report writing for the Land, Soil and Water factors of Environmental Impact Assessments, has extensive fieldwork experience (including phase 1 and 2 peat surveys), and has contributed to a Contaminated Land Assessment. Lucy has proficiencies in qualitative and quantitative research methods; data manipulation and analysis; technical report writing; GIS; and project management. Additionally, she is an Associate Member of the Institution of Environmental Sciences, working towards achieving Chartered Environmentalist status.

2024-02-02 11:00:22