Fersiwn Cymraeg ar gael yma

Peat is a miraculous material that holds many surprises and hidden talents…

Peat bogs are beautiful landscapes, vitally important to people and nature. But first of all, what exactly is peat? It’s a dark looking, soil-like material that builds-up over thousands of years. It forms in very wet conditions where dead plants and organic matter cannot fully decompose.

There are two types of peat bog; a raised bog, found in the lowlands, and blanket bogs in the uplands. In Wales, there are important areas of peat bogs found in places like the Migneint in Snowdonia, the Cambrian Mountains and the Brecon Beacons. Our reserves at RSPB Lake Vyrnwy, RSPB Ynys-hir and RSPB Mawddach also hold important areas of peat bogs.

Nature-rich landscape

Peatbogs is an important habitat for a plethora of different birds, plants and animals. Rare sphagnum mosses that can hold 20 times their weight in water thrive here, as well as species of rare lichens. Peatbogs are also important for ground nesting birds like black and red grouse and the elegant hen harrier. These striking raptors can be seen at our RSPB Lake Vyrnwy reserve, as well as the blanket bogs on the Migneint and Ruabon Moors. Waders such as curlews, golden plovers and dunlins also breed here, and it’s an important habitat for butterflies and beetles.

 What does peat do for people?

Not only are peat bogs important for wildlife, they’re also valuable to people. Let’s start with climate change. With the planet warming up at an unprecedented scale, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Nature can also help us, by locking up carbon in the land rather than releasing it to the atmosphere.

That’s exactly what peat does. Normally, when plant life decomposes, the carbon stored in them is released back to the atmosphere. But in peat bogs, the carbon is locked up. Across the UK, peat holds 400 million tonnes of carbon, double the amount of all the UK’s forests put together. In Wales, we have over 90,000 ha of peat-rich areas, that’s the equivalent to 112,500 football pitches. Safe to say that these areas are important assets in our fight to tackle climate change.

Peat bogs can also be useful to manage floods. A peat bog is essentially a big sponge that soaks up water. When it rains (it usually does here in Wales!) the water is held in blanket bogs, and released slowly to the sea. This means that the flow of water is regulated, which is a big help in stopping flash floods from occurring. Peat bogs also provide us with a precious water source during dry summers, as well as acting as a big water filtering system.

 Protecting peat

Peat bogs are important to us, but unfortunately, we haven’t treated this fragile habitat with the respect it deserves. Over the course of the years, vast areas have been drained to make way for farming or forestry. This has dried out the peat, which accelerates the process of decay. When peat decays, the carbon stored in it is released back into the atmosphere.

However, there are many projects around the country dedicated to reversing this degradation. Here in Wales, At RSPB Lake Vyrnwy, a EU LIFE project allowed us to block 110 km of ditches, returning the land to its former condition by rewetting. This will allow the peat to restore build-up once again. We’re also working with nature-friendly farmers to manage peat bogs in a way that works for wildlife and people.

In a world threatened by an ecological and climate crisis, we need to do all we can to protect these special places.