Irish peat bog

Protecting wetland species

How National Grid’s partners are saving peat bogs and why it matters

A project led by the Forestry Commission is restoring 1,000 hectares of peat bog in the Border Mires to ensure that important species that breed in the wetlands survive.

Dragonfly in its natural habitat
Bogs support uncommon species such as the White-faced and Downy Emerald dragonfly
Scottish Highlands Peat Bog

Peatlands cover 12% of the UK but 80% are in a poor condition because they’ve been drained of water or damaged by extraction

A project led by the Forestry Commission is restoring 1,000 hectares of peat bog in the Border Mires, on the southern edge of Kielder Forest in Northumberland. The restoration is part of a Government drive to improve Sites of Special Scientific Interest in England.

About 800,000 conifers have been felled and more than nine miles of drains blocked to re-wet the land, leading to a rise in the water table in the bogs. The work will ensure that important species that breed in the wetlands survive.

Meanwhile the Wildlife Trusts are supporting an ambitious target to restore 4% of the UK’s land mass to improve water quality, alleviate flooding, aid carbon storage and wildlife. A million hectare challenge map is forming the basis of a seven-year peatland restoration campaign being led by experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The organisation has also issued a new peatland code which aims to provide standards and science to give business confidence that their financial contributions are making a verifiable difference to UK peatlands.

The Wildlife Trusts themselves are carrying out restoration projects throughout the country. Some are in uplands to benefit populations downstream as well as being carbon stores and wildlife havens. Others are lowland peatlands where carbon storage and nature are the chief beneficiaries.

Golden Plover bird on Yorkshire Moors

Golden Plover

Breeding waders like the Golden Plover thrive in the peat bog habitat

Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum moss features heavily in the vegetation when peat bogs are protected

Common Peat Bog

Wet heath and pine trees at Thursley Common National Nature Reserve, Surrey

So what is peat?

It’s an organic material that forms in the waterlogged, sterile, acidic conditions of bogs and fens. These conditions favour the growth of mosses, especially sphagnum. As plants die, they do not decompose. Instead, the organic matter is laid down, and slowly accumulates as peat because of the lack of oxygen in the bog.

What’s the problem?

Over the last century the UK’s peat lands have been affected by practices such as draining bogs to create areas for grazing and game management. But these drainage ditches (or ‘grips’) can contribute to flooding, soil erosion and loss of wetland habitats, as well as causing increased carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Some peat bogs are also used to produce garden compost, which damages the bogs.

Did you know?

  • Storing twice as much carbon as the planet’s forests, peatlands are responsible for at least 10 % of carbon dioxide emissions, so protecting and restoring them is an effective way of tackling greenhouse gases which cause climate change.
  • They are important for land management purposes to address flooding because it can hold up to 20 times in own weight in water
  • They store carbon – over three billion tonnes of carbon is already stored and if repaired, they could remove an additional three million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year from the atmosphere.
  • They are fantastic landscapes for wildlife – rich habitats that support many species of plants and animals, including rare species that are adapted to the harsh conditions.