Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma.

On Friday 27 November, we heard the great news that Wales is to have a Peatland Restoration Programme. Led by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and funded by the Welsh Government this programme will begin the important and urgent job of restoring peatlands in Wales.

This is a great step forward for peatland restoration and climate ambitions in Wales and we welcome the commitment and direction that the announcement of the programme shows.

Wales has around 90,000ha of peatlands which includes upland blanket bogs, lowland raised bogs and a range of other wet organically rich habitats, but only about 10% of these areas are in a healthy condition.

Why are peatlands important?

Healthy, wet peatlands can capture and store carbon from the atmosphere, locking up this important greenhouse gas, often for thousands of years. But when damaged by drainage, afforestation or burning, these peatlands begin to produce carbon rather than store it. At present, around 90% of Welsh peatlands are emitting rather than storing carbon.

Historical drainage for agriculture, poorly located forestry and ongoing burning as part of intensive land management has damaged peatlands. As well as emitting carbon, this also causes erosion and a drop in water quality. Degraded peatlands can also worsen the impact of the more frequent severe weather events we are experiencing as a result of climate change.

Peatlands store carbon and provide habitats for wildlife. Credit: Nicholas Rodd (rspb-images.com)

As well as storing carbon and slowing the flow of water off the land into rivers and streams, peatlands are also home to a wide array of wildlife. In Wales peatlands provide spring and summer nesting areas for waders including curlew and golden plover, both of which have declined massively in Wales. Many rare and interesting plants can be found across upland and lowland bogs such as sundews, cotton grass, bog rosemary and bog asphodel. They can also support a range of amphibians as well as many species of moths and butterflies including the striking large-heath. In restoring our peatlands, we must ensure this is done in a way that secures a resilient ecosystem as well as stopping emissions.

Peatlands in Wales are found in a variety of locations from the cold wet uplands of the Migneint and the Berwyn, to Cors Fochno on the coastal lowlands around the Dyfi estuary. In some areas, peatlands are found close to urban populations such as Crymlyn bog and Pen Y Cymoedd in south Wales. But, whilst these areas still support a diverse range of wildlife, they often provide the last remaining area of habitat that used to cover a much wider area of Wales. The breaking-up of these habitats leaves the species that live there vulnerable to pressures including the impacts of climate change.

What needs to be done?

Having declared a climate emergency in 2019, the announcement of the National Peatland Restoration Programme is an important step in moving Wales towards a net zero future.

However there is much that needs to be done.

To date, the main focus for climate change mitigation through land use in Wales has been on tree planting. However, recent work published by RSPB shows that peatlands currently emit more carbon than would be captured by even the highest tree planting targets suggested by the UK Climate Change Committee. This means that in order to make real progress, we must implement a widescale programme of peatland restoration that goes beyond that already announced.

It’s possible to deliver both our climate ambitions and halt the loss of biodiversity, but in order to do this we must ensure action is carried out in the right place and is sufficient to secure positive outcomes for nature.

In order to deliver peatland restoration that can provide the full range of possible benefits in addition to the steps already announced Welsh Government must:

  • Set out a plan for restoring all Welsh Peatlands, including afforested sites and sites under agricultural management.
  • Provide adequate funding to deliver peatland restoration as a matter of urgency to secure positive climate action.
  • Invest in peatland restoration as part of the Green Recovery to create jobs in the delivery of practical peatland action.
  • Prevent tree planting on organo-mineral soils such as shallow peat, unless nature and carbon benefits can be demonstrated
  • Ban extraction and sales of peat, including in gardening and horticulture
  • Recommend and incentivise economic uses compatible with the sustainable management of this wetland soil type