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Conserving Peatlands

Peatlands

Peatlands are a vital buffer against climate change, and with 80% of UK Peatlands in poor condition, their restoration has become a pressing issue. UEL researcher Mr Richard Lindsay has been undertaking critical work on behalf of leading environmental organisations to help protect and restore this important part of the UK landscape.

Peatlands are wetlands with a deep water-logged organic soil layer (peat) made up of dead and decaying plant material.  They store almost four times as much carbon as the world’s rainforests, help to reduce flooding, and offer vital support to UK wildlife by representing the largest expanse of semi-natural onshore habitat remaining in the UK. 

It is estimated that the UK contains about 15 per cent of the world's peatlands and that these alone hold 3.2 trillion tonnes of carbon. Preserving them could help the UK to meet its ambitious targets in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and counter harmful climate change.

Richard Lindsay, a leading environmentalist based within UEL’s Sustainability Research Institute, has been conducting extensive research into the ecology, classification and conservation of peatlands, including detailed investigations into the drainage effects, burning impacts and ecosystem services.

His work has played a vital role in assembling and presenting several key peatland conservation cases, as well as a number of substantial management and monitoring programmes at both a national and international level.

It has informed policy across the UK, including in Scotland, which supports over 80% of the country's deepest blanket bog peatlands, helping to underpin the allocation of more than £16million to restore Scotland’s peatland landscape.

Peatlands - IUCN Peatland programme‌

Lindsay’s peatland research for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)  ultimately helped to prompt all four UK Government Environment Ministers to issue a joint statement of commitment to peatland conservation and restoration, and underpinned the formation of the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, which promotes peatland restoration in the UK. UEL currently sits as the only academic member on the programme’s Steering Group.

A report for RSPB Scotland highlighted the major climate-change benefits of work to protect and restore UK peatbogs, and in June 2012 Lindsay was commissioned to take part in Natural England's Upland Evidence Review.  
Independent Government advisors the Committee on Climate Change, drew upon Lindsay’s work to inform deliberations about the role of peatlands in relation to climate change, and Lindsay was also co-author of the Defra-sponsored UK Peatland Code. Launched by the Environment Minister in September 2013, the code is designed to develop funding streams for the restoration and re-wetting of degraded peatlands across the UK, financed through Corporate Social Responsibility mechanisms.

Internationally, Lindsay’s research has contributed to successful negotiations which established the current Strategic Plan of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a global agreement addressing all aspects of biological diversity.  As a result, peatlands feature prominently in the Aichi Targets of the CBD Strategic Plan for 2011–2020, which provide the overarching framework for the development of global biodiversity policy, as well as shaping the policies and actions of individual national governments.

Lindsay’s research on the impacts of wind farms on peatland ecosystems has influenced the outcome of several important legal cases, including famous cases in Derrybrien and the Isle of Lewis. His research helped to improve the accuracy of popular media coverage of peatland-related issues.

According to the Chair of the IUCN UK National Committee, Lindsay’s research has “provided an immensely important catalyst in securing action across a wide range of policy, science and practice activities aimed at restoring and conserving peatlands”.