Experts will focus on saving North Pennines peatlands

THE crucial role of peatlands in tackling climate change will be a focus of a major conference taking place in the North East.

Peat: Contractor Nigel Steadman blocking a drainage channel. Photo copyright Charlie Hedley

THE crucial role of peatlands in tackling climate change will be a focus of a major conference taking place in the North East.

The two-day Investing in Peatlands: The Climate Challenge event at Durham University, attended by more than 200 delegates, is the first of its kind and will bring peat conservation centre stage.

Preservation and restoration of peatlands is vital because they lock away carbon in the form of plant matter.

When drained or eroded, often by farming or fire, the stores are release into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

The conference has been organised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership.

One of the speakers, North Pennine’s Paul Leadbitter, has been supervising work on the best ways and places to block drainage channels, or grips.

They were cut until the 1980s in the hope of making land more suitable for agriculture.

The North Pennines AONB Partnership’s Peatscapes project aims to conserve and enhance the internationally important environment.

Pictured: Contractor Nigel Steadman blocking a drainage channel. Photo copyright Charlie Hedley

Wet and dry peat. Photo copyright Charlie Hedley

The AONB contains 9,500 km of grips cut into the peat over the past 50 years.

Mr Leadbitter said: “Britain has the 10th highest amount of peat on the planet and the North Pennines contain 27% of England’s blanket bog.

“The United Kingdom is showing the way on how peatlands should be managed.”

Chris Woodley-Stewart, director of the AONB Partnership, said: “While cars, trains and planes account for up to 7% of worldwide CO2 emissions, drying peatlands could account for up to 11%, more than all transport combined.”

Upland blanket peatlands are the largest terrestrial carbon store in Britain.

Blanket bogs also form the headwaters of many British river systems, and are a major source of drinking water in areas such as the Pennines. Peat bogs are derived entirely from the growth of living plant material.

This protective blanket of peat, which covers whole landscapes, has been largely generated by one of our smallest plants, sphagnum bog moss.

This produces a sophisticated system of water control and a remarkably biodiverse habitat, which can store more soil carbon for longer than any other habitat in the UK. However, no more than 10% of our peat bogs are considered to be active living peatlands. Durham University’s Dr Fred Worrall will talk on how an estimated 40% of moorland has been subject to manage burning to improve sheep grazing and grouse numbers.

But it has also been associated with causing wildfires with its potential for damage to the underlying peat.

A PEAT TREAT

A BOTTLED beer, called Old Sphagnum, has been brewed especially for the peatlands conference.

Delegates will be treated to the beer from Allendale Brewery in Northumberland, along with local food, including beef, lamb and honey from the moors in the region.

Brewers Tom and Lucy Hick were approached by conference co-organisers the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership.

Lucy said: “They wanted something that would make people think of peat, and came up with the idea of celebrating sphagnum moss, which is one of the building blocks of peatlands.

"Our brewery is supplied with water which is filtered through North Pennines peatlands, so we have a business interest in keeping these areas healthy.”

Pictured: Wet and dry peat. Photo Charlie Hedley

 
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