mapping sustainable futures

What are peatlands?

What are peatlands?

Peatlands – also known as mires, fens and bogs – are a type of wetland found in almost every country on earth. Their year-round waterlogged condition means that dead plant material cannot fully decompose. Instead, it builds up to form peat. Over millennia the peat accumulates, becoming, in some places, meters thick. Peatland refers to both this peat soil and wetland habitat which grows on its surface and, with the correct conditions, which will eventually turn into the peat soil itself. Therefore , peatlands are carbon capturing heroes. Not only do they store more carbon than any other land-based ecosystem, they also prevent floods, droughts, and help clean water. However, peatlands worldwide are under threat – and without proper restoration and protection, could become a carbon-emitting disaster for climate change.

Peatlands span all continents, and while all waterlogged, can be incredibly varied. From the forested peatlands of Europe, to Scotland’s open, treeless blanket bog, Southeast Asia’s tropical swamp forests, Russia’s vast permafrost and the high mountain peatlands in the Andes and Himalayas, peatland covers 3% of the global land surface, with new areas still being discovered.

Globally, peatlands contain at least 550 gigatons of carbon – more than twice that stored in all forests 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 crucial ecosystem services. In their natural wet state, they prevent flooding and drought, and help ensure clean drinking water. Peatlands are also incredibly important for biodiversity, home to rare birds, throngs of insects, and rare plants.

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