mapping sustainable futures

1.1 Introduction


Peatlands span all continents, and although all waterlogged, they can be incredibly varied. In Europe peatland ecosystems range from Ireland and Scotland’s open, treeless blanket mires or bogs, to North Europe and the Baltic region’s raised bogs, Central Europe’s River valley peatlands, Northern Scandinavia’s string-flark mires and the Southern European fens. With such variation, a sensitive approach to peatland management and restoration is crucial, making pan-European collaboration a necessity.

Despite only covering 3% of land surface, globally, peatlands contain at least 550 gigatons of carbon – more than twice that stored in all forest biomass and equivalent to 75% of all carbon in the atmosphere. This makes peatlands the world’s largest land-based carbon store, despite their relatively small surface coverage. Beyond their vital role in carbon storage, peatlands also provide further crucial ecosystem services. In their natural wet state, they mitigate flooding and drought, reduce the risk of fire and help ensure clean drinking water. In the UK, 43% of the population receives drinking water sourced from peatlands, with the number climbing to 68% in Ireland. Peatlands are also incredibly important for biodiversity, home to rare birds, throngs of insects, and unusual plants. Another Eco-System Service (ESS) that is provided by peatlands is preservation of scientific and community history: thanks to their long history and preservative nature, peatlands also have an important archive function.

Peatlands have been drained for centuries to enhance their properties for agriculture. However, we now know that drainage induces and promotes peatland oxidation, which leads to substantial CO2 emissions and subsidence. It also threatens the ESS mentioned above. Therefore, ongoing drainage of peatlands is not sustainable, and scientists, governments, NGO’s and farmers associations try to find ways to mitigate the effects of peatland drainage and to shape transition pathways towards sustainable peatland management.

However, drained peatlands now often are home to important cultural landscapes formed by their drainage and use over centuries – a fact that has to be acknowledged and taken into account in the narrative of transformative change and just transition.

Course coordinators

Prof. Dr. Tess Bouchet

Prof. Dr. Francois du Monde

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