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A win-win approach to climate change? Peak moorland restoration

This is an archived press release

Monday 14 December 2009

14 December 2009

A win-win approach to climate change?

Can our moorland environment in the Peak District help fight the effects of climate change?...the people at Moors for the Future in the Peak District National Park think it can.

BEFORE restoration - Black Hill May 2004AFTER restoration - Black Hill July 2008

Peat moorlands cover less than 3 per cent of the land surface of the Earth yet they contain twice as much carbon as the world’s forests.

Peat is the single biggest store of carbon in the UK, storing the equivalent of 20 years of all UK CO2 emissions and keeping it out of the atmosphere.

Three billion tonnes of carbon are stored in UK peat - more than in the forests of Britain and France combined. 20 million tonnes of this is in the Peak District.

If we keep our peat moorlands healthy they can help us to combat climate change and its effects.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen heard that it will be difficult to meet emissions targets that will keep global mean temperature rise below the critical 2 degrees of pre-industrial revolution temperatures.

A broad approach is needed to tackle climate change, locking up and removing carbon from the atmosphere as well as reducing emissions.

Healthy peat moors:

  • Absorb and store carbon - locking up billions of tons of carbon in the form of beautiful landscapes and precious wildlife habitats
  • Provide good quality drinking water - 70% of our drinking water comes from these landscapes
  • Help reduce the likelihood of flooding - in good condition our moorlands slow the flow of rainwater, this may reduce the likelihood of flash flooding in downstream urban areas such as were seen in the Don Valley in 2007 and Derby in 2000.

However:

  • More than 150 years of industrial pollution has damaged peat moorland.

The moorlands of the Peak District National Park were surrounded by the polluting industries of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Staffordshire. Soot and poisonous gasses settled on the moorland, destroying the vegetation and damaging the peat. Workers walking in the ‘fresh’ air of the moors on their days off returned black with industrial waste.

  • In addition, our peat which is already in poor condition is unable to withstand the predicted extremes of future weather which will erode much of it into our rivers and reservoirs. This is bad in two ways:
    • It reduces the amount of carbon-and-water-absorbing peat
    • It pollutes the rivers that feed the drinking-water reservoirs so that water companies have to spend more money cleaning the water for consumption

It follows that, if peat moors store huge quantities of carbon when they are healthy, they have the potential to release similarly huge quantities of carbon into the atmosphere (as carbon dioxide) if they are damaged.

What Moors for the Future is doing to help mitigate the effects of climate change:

The Moors for the Future Partnership is working within the Peak District National Park and beyond to restore large areas of peat moorland to a healthy, living and sustainable state so that it can once again fulfil its key role in mitigating climate change.

Recently awarded 7 million Euros (£5.5m) from the European Life+ Fund for its ‘MoorLife’ project to restore more than 2,000 acres of Peak District and South Pennine moorland. This was the largest sum to be awarded to a UK project in the history of the EU Life Programme and Moors for the Future is now one of the biggest peat restoration operations in Europe.

Lord Chris Smith, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “Peatlands are very important, as they store millions of tons of carbon, helping to mitigate climate change and can hold back rain water to prevent flooding downstream.  If these moors are damaged these important services to society are lost.  This is why the Agency is committed to this Partnership Project, it is a win-win protecting biodiversity and helping us manage two of the most serious challenges we face on coping with flood risk and climate change.”

Chris Dean, Moors for the Future Programme Manager, said: “There is an enormous human benefit in having a moorland environment in as good a condition as we can make it. Some 70 per cent of England’s population collects its drinking water from moorland environments, the way they are managed can reduce flooding downstream and peatlands are the UK’s biggest store of carbon.

This is an archived press release

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