On 29 June 2023, the government announced new investment and actions to improve lowland peat and reduce carbon emissions.
New investment and actions to improve lowland peat and reduce carbon emissions have been set out by the government today (Thursday 29 June).
Peat soils contain over half the country’s terrestrial carbon stores and serve as a potent nature-based solution against climate change. However, as a result of centuries of drainage to create land suitable for agriculture, our peat soils are drying out, causing the organic matter they contain to decompose and release carbon into the atmosphere. Today, just 1% of England’s lowland peatlands remain in a near-natural state.
By rewetting lowland peat soils, we can deliver carbon emission reductions, improve food security, boost wetland biodiversity, and better protect communities from flooding.
To support the preservation and sustainable management of lowland peatlands, the government has announced that it will take forward action on all the recommendations made by Robert Caudwell, independent Chair of the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force, whose report is published today.
Environment Minister Trudy Harrison said:
This comes alongside over £7.5 million of new funding to kickstart improvements in how we manage water resources to rewet and preserve peat soils. This funding will drive advancements in our understanding of the lowland peat water challenge to transform the way we use water in England’s lowland peat, and will also pay for the installation of infrastructure and monitoring technology to enable more control of water levels in these regions.
The measures government is taking will also improve resilience to drought and safeguard productive farming on some of our most valuable agricultural land, supporting our rural economy and those whose livelihoods are intrinsically tied to the land.
In 2020, the government established the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force to explore how to improve the condition of England’s lowland farmed peat whilst ensuring the continuation of productive agriculture for years to come. The Chair of the task force has put forward fourteen recommendations to government and the wider sector to ensure that lowland peat soils can be managed more sustainably.
These recommendations include:
Robert Caudwell, Chair of the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force said:
The new funding is distributed across two pilots. The Lowland Agricultural Peat Small Infrastructure Pilot (£5.45m) will support the installation of infrastructure and monitoring technology to enable more control of water levels for the preservation and rewetting of lowland peat. Delivery of this project is being supported by the Association of Drainage Authorities.
The Lowland Agricultural Peat Water Discovery Pilot (£2.2m), to be delivered by the Environment Agency, will allow local and water peatland partnerships to collaborate to develop costed water level management plans for lowland peat areas in England.
Alan Lovell, Chair of the Environment Agency said:
Twelve projects across England are also set to receive support through the £5 million Paludiculture Exploration Fund grant scheme – administered by Natural England – to help understand and overcome barriers to developing paludiculture as a commercially viable farming practice on lowland peat soils.
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England said:
Today’s announcements are part of the government’s commitments to drive international ambition on action to tackle climate change and work towards nature-based solutions, and demonstrate our ambition to deliver on our net zero pathway.
The evidence generated by the projects will enable Defra to deliver on our lowland peat commitments within the government’s England Peat Action Plan, Net Zero Strategy, Environmental Improvement Plan, and Plan for Water. On lowland peat, Defra has already funded a new update to the Peatland Code, announced a £6.6m peatland research and development programme, and is developing new farming schemes to support rewetting, restoration and new farming methods in the lowlands. It will also be publishing the new England Peat Map next year.
In recognition of the environmental benefits and the key role lowland peat soils play in food production, the government will continue to work with the Chair of the task force as well as farmers, landowners and the wider industry to take forward action on all the report’s recommendations for more sustainable forms of peatland management.