Politicians are getting very excited about planting millions of trees to curb climate change, but there is little mention of the peatlands of Britain.
Peatlands may not be as glamorous as forests, but they store far more carbon dioxide. They occupy about 12% of the UK’s land area and store 5.5bn tonnes of carbon, over half of the entire country’s current carbon storage.
Compare that with our forests, which store 150m tonnes of carbon, although forests grow faster, and absorb carbon faster, than peatlands.
And peatlands become part of the climate problem by giving off CO2 when they dry out, caused by drainage for farming or other developments.
Restoring peat moors may be a relatively inexpensive way of tackling climate change, by blocking up drainage ditches and bringing back vegetation to the moors.
In a report this July, the government’s Office for National Statistics estimated that fully restoring the UK’s lost peatlands could cost between £8bn and £22bn over the next 100 years. But it predicted savings of £109bn in terms of reduced carbon emissions.
And there are other advantages to healthy peatlands. They provide more than 25% of the UK’s drinking water, and also help to control flooding by soaking up heavy rainfalls and releasing the water more gradually.