Britain's Bogs: A Forgotten Ecosystem
22nd Jun, 2021
Peatlands are a type of wetlands which are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth: they are critical for preserving global biodiversity, provide safe drinking water, minimise flood risk and actively help address climate change. Peat bogs are suffering from a severe lack of awareness, we are here to give you insight into why protecting peatlands could be key to the future of the planet:
What are peatlands?
A peat bog is a wetland made up of a range of plants and mosses, including several species of sphagnum moss, that thrive in such constantly wet conditions. Raised bogs began forming 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, and blanket bogs over the last 2,000 years. Whilst only 3% of the world’s land surface is peatland, 15% of it is found here in the UK.
These bogs have a wide range of benefits including providing a home for animals, or for archaeological purposes, preserving records of past life and helping to regulate water flows and reduce flooding downstream.
"Peat holds more carbon than the combined forests of Britain, France & Germany." - The National Trust
Why are peatlands important?
Peatlands are the largest natural terrestrial carbon store; the area covered by near natural peatland worldwide stores more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined. Peat bogs absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, however continued exploitation means that this stored carbon dioxide is being released, adding to our global warming problems. Whilst damaged peatland releases CO2, once restored, peatlands can actually capture carbon dioxide. Peatland has the capacity to store significant quantities of carbon – the peat soils in Scotland alone contain almost 25 times as much carbon as all other plant life in the UK. This carbon is essentially ‘locked in’ to the peat soil and in this way helps to reduce the impact of climate change.
In their natural, wet state peatlands provide vital ecosystem services. By regulating water flows, they help minimise the risk of flooding and drought and prevent seawater intrusion. In many parts of the world, peatlands supply food, fibre and other local products that sustain local economies. They also preserve important ecological and archaeological information such as pollen records and human artefacts.
"The Tollund Bog Man is 2,400 years old and still has his three-day beard - you feel he will open his eyes & talk to you." -Karin Margarita Frei, Research Scientist
What we can do to protect peat:
A lack of awareness of the benefits of peatlands means that they have been severely overexploited and damaged as a result of actions including drainage, agricultural conversion, burning and mining for fuel, among others. About 15% of the world’s peatlands have been drained, this has released huge amounts of greenhouse gases from the carbon stored within peat soils.
Urgent action worldwide is required to protect, sustainably manage and restore peatlands. However, tackling peat use in our gardens is something we can all influence today. Amateur gardening accounts for a massive 69% of peat compost used in the UK. One simple action is to stop buying peat-based compost instead, only buy peat-free compost, and only buy plants from suppliers who grow peat-free. Why not also visit one of Britain's beautiful bogs and support the National Trust’s peatland protection programme, see locations across the country below.
Image credits: Tate Britain, National Geographic, Murdo MacLeod, The Guardian