Impact - Case Studies

Peatlands and Carbon Management - A Critical Assessment

Research at SRI has catalysed action across a wide range of policy, science and practice activities aimed at restoring and conserving peatlands. It has underpinned the development of a government-affiliated body (IUCN UK PP) committed to ensuring effective conservation and restoration of peatlands, and helped shape carbon-management initiatives and policies at national and inter-governmental level, prompting Ministerial commitments and substantial funding for UK peatlands.

It has also supported inter-governmental consensus over the sustainable management of peatlands and their carbon stores, and influenced legal decisions about wind farm development on peat. Furthermore, it has enhanced public understanding of important environmental issues relating to peatlands and their ecosystem services, particularly in relation to greenhouse-gas emissions and water management.

Underpinning research
For almost 25 years Richard Lindsay, who joined UEL as a Principal Lecturer in 1997, was the scientific specialist peatland advisor to the statutory wildlife agencies. In that role, he conducted surveys and assessments of peatlands throughout Britain and abroad.

For 16 years, he was also Chair of the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) - the global network of peatland scientific advisors. Between 2008 and 2009 Lindsay was commissioned by RSPB Scotland to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature on peatbogs and carbon to inform policy development in oceanic peat bog conservation and restoration in the context of climate change.

The review, which was supported by funding from Scottish Natural Heritage, Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England and the Forestry Commission, explored the seemingly contradictory scientific evidence relating to peatland carbon flux and management. To the reviewed literature, Lindsay added ecological information and understanding based on his own experience; he also conducted aerial-photo interpretation and field surveys to clarify key issues.

In many cases, Lindsay found that a misunderstanding by original authors of the ecological condition of the site under investigation had led to incorrect interpretations of results, and hence to the apparent contradictions in the existing literature. His final report, released in June 2010, highlighted the major climate-change benefits of work to protect and restore peatbogs in the UK [1].

Follow-on research funding was provided by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) UK Peatland Programme to support further and more detailed investigation by Lindsay of topics such as drainage effects, burning impacts and ecosystem services.

As part of this commissioned research, Lindsay assessed material presented to the IUCN's 2011 Commission of Inquiry into Peatlands, and co-authored the final IUCN Report on that Commission [2]. In June 2012, he was commissioned to take part in Natural England's Upland Evidence Review, which addressed managed burning, one of the most widely-practiced forms of land use in the English uplands [3].

In 2012 Lindsay was invited to assist in the development of a Defra-sponsored Peatland Code, designed to develop funding streams for peatland restoration financed through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mechanisms. Lindsay was a co-author of the Code, which was launched by the Environment Minister in September 2013 [4].

In 2004 Lindsay and Dr Olivia Bragg (University of Dundee) were commissioned by Derrybrien Residents' Co-operative (a local community), to undertake an assessment of, and produce a report about, a major bog slide associated with wind farm construction at Derrybrien, Co. Galway. This report considered the probable causes of the slope failure and the consequences (both potential and actual) of the bog slide, including its impacts on carbon stores. On the basis of this work, Lindsay was commissioned to undertake a number of subsequent surveys in 2008-9 and submit several Expert Witness Reports to the High Court in Galway in support of compensation claims being made by the local residents [5].

This led to Lindsay being commissioned to analyse, firstly, a large wind farm proposal for the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, and, secondly, suspected illegal moorland track construction in the north of England. These both involved survey, analysis and critical review of the official evidence. The final report for the RSPB [6], co-authored with Jamie Freeman (UEL), found that Lewis Wind Power Ltd had substantially underestimated the area of the carbon-rich peatland that could be affected, and that a wind farm could have a major impact on the internationally important peatland site as well as on the wider environment of the island.

Lindsay's Expert Witness evidence for Natural England made clear that track construction had caused significant harm to the protected peatland habitat.

Eureka and FLASH

The SRI supported a wide range of London- based SMEs through these two ERDF projects.  The benefits these businesses accrued from this support can be seen from the examples detailed below:

  • Drug and Alcohol Service for London: DASL is a Stratford-based charity supporting people in East London with drug and alcohol problems. SRI helped DASL develop procedures for managing their waste as part of the charity's work towards accreditation for the ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS). The charity managed a 90% reduction in waste production following the SRI audit. 'SRI’s assistance really helped DASL,' says finance and resources manager Ann Saunders.
  • DT Conferences and Events:  DT Conferences and Events (DT) runs networking events and conferences for card fraud professionals in the international financial services sector. SRI carried out an environmental audit of the company and found their biggest environmental cost wasn't in waste or energy – as with most companies – but in IT.  SRI worked with DT’s website developers to create new IT processes so that conference delegates could download presentations online rather than have them on USB – saving the company significant money and reducing the environmental impact. SRI also advised DT on a number of water saving measures at its events and conferences.
  • OCL Regeneration: OCL manufactures and sells environmentally-sustainable building materials to construction companies and contractors. SRI worked with OCL on research and development into recycled sustainable materials and also helped them quantify the kind of sustainability savings they could make for their customers. These included money, waste, and savings from recycling. 'The expertise provided by the [SRI] team really helped us move forward as a business,' says OCL managing director Stuart Gready.
  • Positive Signs:  Positive Signs provides interpreting and training services in British Sign Language (BSL) for deaf workers and their employers.  SRI helped Positive Signs review their business processes and develop an environmental policy, encouraging them to make more use of online video platforms such as YouTube. 'We considered ourselves quite environmentally conscious already,' says marketing manager Trish Binks. 'We realised there were some areas we could reduce our impact even further. We had almost no knowledge of filming and editing techniques,' says Trish. 'Now we’re able to film, edit and post YouTube clips and videos. We've reduced costs and carbon emissions,' she adds. 'We’re very happy.'
  • Slider Studio:  Slider Studio is a design consultancy specialising in the built environment. Slider's products include Stickyworld – an online system that allows people to talk about or comment on a project. Town councils - for example - have used the system to find out what local residents thought about proposed changes to streets in their area.  SRI worked with Slider to find ways to measure the company's green credentials - using their own product. 'With input from the SRI, we used Stickyworld to conduct an internal environmental audit,' says Slider Studio director Michael Kohn. 'This helped us develop a practical strategy for environmental change in our business.' The work SRI did with Slider even led to the consultancy coming up with an idea for a new product - an environmental application for the Stickyworld platform.