The National Trust Magazine Summer 2008
Preserving Peat bogs is vital to maintain Carbon Sink

“Peat layers, sometimes 3 metres deep, but mostly half that, were laid down some 3,000 years ago”, says Mike Innerdale, the National Trust’s property manager for the 18,000 hectare High Peak and Longshaw Estate, in The National Trust Magazine Summer 2008 issue. “they were formed in cold wet conditions when bog plants died and accumulated rather than decayed. Over time these layers of undecomposed vegetation formed dense peat. And the carbon dioxide, stored by the plants during photosynthesis remained in the peat layers”.   The Trust has been working for years to restore the biodiversity of the peat bogs in its care, but this work now has an added urgency because disturbed or drained peatlands have been recognised as the source of some of Britain’s most significant carbon emissions.

“Peat is one of the most efficient natural reservoirs of carbon there is” says Dr Fred Worrall, a leading peat researcher at Durham University.    “But if peat is exposed and allowed to dry out and oxidise, it releases carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.   It then becomes more vulnerable to fires which release even more carbon dioxide.  Moreover, degraded peat beds erode rapidly in rain, releasing dissolved organic carbon into rivers.  In short, Britain’s deteriorating peat bogs are a forgotten climate-change time bomb.   Britain has about 8 per cent of the world’s peat”, says Dr Worrall, “it’s a phenomenon of cold wet climates but as we get warmer with climate change the peat becomes very vulnerable”.  Some areas of disturbed peatlands in the UK are almost certainly already net sources of carbon dioxide emissions. “If we do nothing”, says Dr Worrall, “those areas will inevitably grow and the problem will get worse. But if we do something we could turn it into a carbon sink and avoid a carbon loss”.

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