Peatland Policy

Image: Bladderwort (Utricularia minor)
© Emma Goodyer

Peatland Policy

Due to the overlapping interaction of peatland habitats with a variety of land uses and a range of topic areas (e.g. water and climate change) there are no specific peatland policies within the UK. The most relevant government policy areas (biodiversity, forestry, water, spatial planning, soils, climate mitigation and adaptation) are almost entirely devolved to the four UK administrations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Although there are many similarities in the policy tools used, and some overarching policy targets at UK (and/or EU) level (e.g. UK Biodiversity Action Plans for peatlands, Natura 2000, GHG emissions, water quality), there is no single authority responsible for peatland policy at UK level. Although the Joint Nature Conservation Council (JNCC) are able to provide an overview nationally, the relevant departments of the four separate administrations determine the priorities, how funding is allocated and detailed policies for peatland.

The IUCN UK PP Commission of Inquiry (2011) sought to review policy measures for peatlands and made recommendations for future policy.  

The UK Peatland Strategy (launched in 2018) highlights a range of national and international policies which recognise the global significance of peatlands (see table below;  UK Peatland Strategy, p42-43). These statements and policies provide the broader context for UK and devolved country policy action to conserve and restore our peatlands. 

Our 2020 conference, opened by Minister Rebecca Pow, provided opportunity for the four devolved governments to report progress to the peatland community (see Day 1 sessions) – a feature that has become an important function of our conference series.


International peatland commitments and policies

  • Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

  • IUCN World Conservation Congress: peatland resolution, Hawaii 2016
  • United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity
    • Aichi Biodiversity Targets : Strategic Goal D – Target 15 - requires conservation and restoration of peatlands, highlighting their role in mitigating and adapting to climate change as well as supporting rare and threatened wildlife.
  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
    • Kyoto Protocol and national accounting for peatlands.
      Peatlands can be included on a voluntary basis in national greenhouse gas accounting. The IPCC has produced guidance on reporting on emissions and sequestration of wetlands (including peatlands) following restoration.
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
    • SDG2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

    • SDG13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

    • SDG15: Life on land; sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.

  • UN Environment Assembly of the UN Environment Programme

  • European Climate Change Programme (ECCP)

    • ECCP feeds into a package of policy measures, such as GHG inventories:

      Requires all peatland to be accounted for by 2020.
      UK Carbon Budget 5:  “Adopting more sustainable land management practices, particularly in the case of peatland habitats, will safeguard agricultural productivity and other benefits provided by the natural environment, as well as protecting important carbon stores.”

  • European Water Framework Directive (WFD) (2000)

    • Horizontal Guidance on Wetlands: Peatlands are included as ecosystems that influence water quality or quantity as well as those dependent upon groundwater.

  • EU Habitats Directive

    • Council Directive 92/43/EEC  (Annex 1 habitats1): Classify protected sites and ensure favourable status of peatland habitats across their natural range.

      This includes designations such as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) that may designate peatlands as priority habitats or designate specific peatland species. UK Biodiversity targets: 
      “By 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution
      of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded
      ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification”.

  • EU Birds Directive – Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds (codified version)

    • Article 3 of Council Directive 2009/147/EC , stipulates:

      1. In the light of the requirements referred to in Article 2, Member States shall take the requisite measures to preserve, maintain or re-establish a sufficient diversity and area of habitats for all the species of birds referred to in Article 1.

      2. The preservation, maintenance and re-establishment of biotopes and habitats shall include primarily the following measures:
      (a) creation of protected areas;
      (b) upkeep and management in accordance with the ecological needs of habitats inside and outside the protected zones;
      (c) re-establishment of destroyed biotopes;
      (d) creation of biotopes.

  • UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA)

    • The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) recognised the importance of ecosystem services to the well-being of society and highlighted that many of these services are being degraded or lost. The UK Government responded by conducting a UK NEA: for peatlands this described the range of services provided by these habitats and their current condition.

  • Post-Brexit policies (which replace any rescinded commitments elsewhere e.g. under EU
    environmental legislation) 

    • To be confirmed

A Review was produced for the 2011 Commission of Inquiry  and examines current and future policy measures affecting the sustainable management of peatlands. The Review looks at existing conservation and landscape designations, national strategies, planning and other legal frameworks, codes of practice and provide an assessment of exemplars of good practice. The Review also looks at potential future policy developments at UK, European and International level.

The Review discusses outputs from the Sustainable Uplands project in relation to peatland sustainability in both uplands and lowlands; reviews current approaches to information provision and capacity building for sustainable peatland management; and explores the potential for future land management payments in UK and EU peatlands to be based around Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES).

Scientific Review

Please note, the views expressed in this review are those of the authors. The IUCN UK Peatland Programme is not responsible for the content of this review and does not necessarily endorse the views contained within.

This Review is co-funded by the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) Programme.

Review Team

This review was lead by Dr Mark Reed, Research Lead of IUCN UK Peatland Programme.

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