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Boggy blueberries battling climate change

Posted: 09/06/23

Click here to read the full article on Lancashire Wildlife Trust.

Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s pioneering Rindle wetter farming trial has a new crop – and it’s just ready for your breakfast!

Blueberries naturally love acidic moist growing environments, so they are the perfect choice for the next stage of our exciting wetter farming trial. This week we have worked with a local farmer to plant a trial crop of blueberries, which we hope will be harvested in 2025.

Over the years many of our lowland peatlands have been drained and converted to agriculture. Unfortunately, as soon as the water is removed from peat, the carbon stored within the peat oxidises and is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and other potent greenhouse gases.

In fact, releases from lowland peat make up 56 per cent of all of the emissions from UK peatlands, despite only accounting for about 14 per cent of our peatland land mass – emitting 9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per annum, the same as nearly two and a half coal fired powered stations!

However, if we re-wet this peat emissions can be significantly reduced. For example, re-wetting the peat at our Winmarleigh carbon farm saw a decrease in carbon emissions of 86 per cent, in just one year. But what about the farmers who need to make a living from this land?

Wetter farming, or paludiculture, is the process of re-wetting land and using it to grow crops which are suited to these wetter conditions.

Along with our blueberry crop, we are also growing a second celery crop, following on from last year’s trial planting. Both crops will be grown with two different water tables, one nearer to ground level and one approximately 50cm below the surface. Greenhouse gas emissions will be measured at both water tables to see if we can find the ‘sweet spot’ where the crops grow well, and the emissions are as low as possible.

The UK market for blueberries is worth an estimated £400 million, so this could be a really lucrative crop for farmers. And if they are grown on re-wet agricultural peat, they could significantly reduce our carbon footprint.

In the future our peat team are also considering trialling growing peat-forming sphagnum moss in and around the blueberry bushes. This would help to further protect the precious peat, and eventually even form more, slowly replenishing lost peat stocks.

Over centuries of drainage, huge volumes of peat have been lost to erosion and oxidation. So much so that in many areas there is little more than a metre of peat remaining, which could well have completely disappeared within 50 -100 harvests under conventional intensive agriculture.

Wetter farming could be the future of sustainable agriculture on our precious peatlands – and a bowl of delicious local blueberries could be just the way to celebrate.