Peat landscapes, such as the upland areas Exmoor and Dartmoor, can help us both mitigate and adapt to climate change.
This is because, if managed properly, peat acts as a carbon store, preventing carbon being lost to the atmosphere, as well as acting to absorb heavy rainfall, preventing flooding downstream.
The destruction of England’s natural moorland is worrying for several reasons, not least because of the moors’ important role in climate change adaptation.
Natural England estimates that carbon stored in UK peat bogs equates to five billion tonnes. The Mires on the Moors project aims to improve the condition of peat on Exmoor and Dartmoor and protect the important role it plays.
Peat is extremely beneficial. It holds enormous quantities of water and slows down water run-off during and after heavy rainfall. As our climate changes, this is important for flood protection as well as for management of water supplies. When run-off is slowed down in this way it also prevents nutrients and organic matter from entering rivers and streams, which improves their water quality.
Most moorland in south west England has been drained, drying the moss and causing the release of carbon from the peat. As moss disappears, so does the peat’s protection. The peat starts to emit carbon dioxide, turning it from a carbon sink into a source of emission.
Climate change may increase this problem, as prolonged dry periods make the peat more vulnerable.
What we did
Exmoor’s moorland has benefited from the restoration of 276 hectares to date. This has involved blocking drainage ditches with natural materials to hold water back and making the area wet again.
The project hopes to secure funding for an extension to its work. This will prevent the release of around three million tonnes of carbon dioxide and lock up new carbon stores of around 4,500 tonnes per year.
‘The Mires project shows fantastic creativity and partnership in responding to climate change,’ says Julian Wright, policy advisor for climate change and water. ‘It will help us to adapt to the unavoidable changes climate change will bring and limit the extremes of climate change that are still avoidable.’
The project has also won first prize at the annual Water Industry Achievement Awards, in Birmingham, where it was nominated in the Sustainable Drainage and Flood Management Initiative of the Year category.
Who is involved
South West Water
Exmoor National Park Authority
Dartmoor National Park Authority
Duchy of Cornwall