Beyond Restoration conference 2023: workshops 

Image: © Emma Hinchcliffe

Beyond Restoration conference 2023: workshops 

The third day of our 2023 conference saw a series of workshops for knowledge exchange and the discussion of issues facing peatland restoration.  

Emma Hinchcliffe, Director of the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, opened the day by reflecting on the challenges of restoring peatland in the Fens. She also introduced the Peatland Programme team and updated delegates on our latest news, including recent publications and calls for evidence on paludiculture and remote sensing.   

You can watch Emma’s full introduction here


Delegates then chose two of eight workshops to attend during the day: 

1. Peatland policy: a just transition for people AND nature - how do we achieve a just transition for the UK's peatland communities?  

With a view to new agricultural support systems coming into play in the near future across the UK, this session explored how we achieve a just transition for people and nature in restoring and managing peatlands.  

Speakers included Claire McFadden, Peatland Restoration and Land Quality Unit Lead at the Scottish Government's Environment and Forestry Directorate; Lydia Collas, Senior Policy Analyst at Green Alliance; Megan Hudson, General Manager at Fenland SOIL and Renny McKeown from DAERA NI. 

A summary of the workshop discussions is available to download and you can download the slides from the workshop here.

Peatland policy workshop (c) Emma Hinchcliffe


2. Knowing peat, knowing you: meeting the peatland community's data needs  

As we aim to upscale peatland restoration and sustainable future management to meet ambitious national targets, the need for efficient, accurate and standardised data gathering is paramount. This session explored the approaches being taken by the National Trust (00:04), the multi-organisation AI4Peat (27:54) and Natural England’s Peat Map team (51:24), and their aspirations for optimising peatland data collection. 

After the presentations, discussions focused on two questions:  

  1. What is the future roadmap for data in the peatland community? 

  1. How can we effectively implement new technology for monitoring peatlands? 

Chris Miller, who chaired the workshop, set the scene before the discussion. He said, “We all know the urgency. We all know the scale of the challenge. We all know the huge amount of work that’s already been done. We’re all sat on these mountains of data that we’ve collected but it’s not in a form that can be shared. Therefore, we can’t answer key questions – we can’t say where the peat is and where the peat isn’t. We can’t say what condition it’s in. And going forward we need to know that we need to go beyond restoration…” 

The discussion covered topics such as siloing the historic and natural environments, the problem with different methodologies across projects and each of the devolved nations, the issues with needing landowner permission to share data and the difficulty with pulling together historic data due to a lack of funding. 

You can watch the full workshop here or download the slides from the workshop


3. Lowlands and uplands: cross-pollinating ideas 

This Natural England-led workshop aimed to gather delegate’s views on the supposed dichotomy between lowland and upland peatlands. Iain Diack, Senior Specialist (Wetlands) at Natural England introduced the session by questioning how we define and map lowland and upland peat habitats and species, our perception of the differences between them and the implications of this for peatland restoration and protection. He quoted Arthur Tansley, “The plant communities which form and inhabit wet acid peat have often been divided into ‘lowland’ and ‘upland’, but they are more naturally classified as valley bog, raised bog and blanket bog – names which refer to real differences in habitat structure and mode of development.” He concluded by saying, “Know your peatland! Don’t let where it is blind you to what it is.” 

Discussions (from 28:48) then focused around five themes, enabling delegates to explore contrasts and synergies based on their experience. The themes were: application of techniques, what good looks like, aims of restoration, attitudes to risk and historic environment. Delegates identified areas of synergy across all themes, particularly in relation to general ideas about what good looks like and the aims of restoration. There were also clear contrasts in some contexts between restoration techniques, attitudes to risk and the historic environment, which was identified as a powerful tool for connecting people with their environment.  

You can watch the full workshop here or download the slides from the workshop. A summary of the workshop discussions is available to download.

Lowlands and uplands workshop (c) Jane Akerman

4. Peat and carbon   

Carbon has become a principal driver for peatland conservation and restoration. This session explored the nuances of the peatland carbon debate. Speakers and participants examined where we need to further build the evidence base for supporting accurate accounting, leveraging private finance and making a strong case for restoration and protection of UK peatlands in a variety of land use settings. 

Richard Lindsay, Senior Research Advisor to the IUCN UK Peatland Programme chaired the workshop and opened by saying, “Clearly through the lens of policy, politicians and the financial world, the focus is increasingly on carbon. Now we know that peatlands are much more than that, but this session will be focussing particularly on carbon…” 

There were presentations from Katy Ross, Postgrad researcher in peatland biogeochemistry at UKCEH (02:20); Ross Morrison, Flux Scientist at UKCEH (19:43); Hans Joosten, Professor of Peatland Studies and Palaeoecology at Greifswald Mire Centre (35:35); Fred Worrall, Professor of Environmental Chemistry at Durham University (43:56); Ed Salter, Peatland Code Officer at the IUCN UK Peatland Programme (53:35); and Nye Merrill-Glover, Research Associate at University of Bristol (1:09:40). 

After each presentation, the floor was opened to discussion and questions. There were discussions around the fact that some funding focus has shifted from uplands to lowlands regarding carbon, future plans for the Peatland Code such as whether shallow peat should be included, and whether we should consider buried peat.     

You can watch the full workshop here or download the slides from the workshop

Peat and carbon workshop


5. Lowland agricultural peat and the water environment  

Protecting carbon in peatland soils depends upon rethinking our options for the management of the water environment. Land and water managers, including the Environment Agency (EA), currently have an incomplete understanding of the ways in which we can best manage water to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whilst providing a future for farming and associated land uses. 

Amy Shaw, Fens Flood Risk Manager at the EA opened the workshop by outlining the historical context, complexity and challenges of water management in the Fens, where current infrastructure design and funding mechanisms focus on drainage and protecting people and property from flood risk. She then introduced the work of the Fens 2100+ project in developing future asset management funding mechanisms which balance the needs of the local community while adapting to the challenges of climate change. For peatland restoration to be considered as part of this agenda, evidence is needed on the benefits of this approach for flood risk management. 

Emma Taylor, Peatland Advisor at the EA (21:35), then introduced the EA’s £1M Lowland Agricultural Peat Water Research and Development fund, which focuses on five key themes: water resources for wetter farming and lowland peat restoration; water management for wetter farming; feasibility of raising water levels in physically altered peat; nature-based solutions and the regulatory framework. Emma then summarised current EA and other permitting requirements for those wishing to raise the water table, including Flood Risk Activity Permits, Impoundment or Abstraction Licences and reservoirs

Targeted discussions then sought to identify challenges, issues and concerns in terms of water level management and raising water levels in lowland peat, and the research and knowledge gaps which need to be addressed in relation to policy, funding and the current water management approach. 

A summary of the workshop discussions is available to download, you can watch the full workshop here or download the slides from the workshop.  


6. Restoration trajectories 

This workshop looked to uncover the approaches taken across the UK to evidence restoration and recovery. Presenters shared their knowledge on monitoring techniques, baseline evidence and where our community understanding of restoration recovery has got to over the last two decades of restoration activity. 

Emily Dresner, Peatland Restoration Roadmap Project Manager at Natural England chaired the workshop. After the presentations she summed up the talks, saying, “We’ve had some really good reminders to pay attention to structure and natural function, and really thinking about site recovery in a holistic and integrated way.” The floor was then opened to the audience for discussion and questions.  

There were presentations from Eimear Reeve, Peatland Link Officer at DAERA NI (02:11); Bryan Irvine, Senior Technologist, Agriculture at College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (11:54); Richard Lindsay, Head of Environmental and Conservation Research at the University of East London (22:18); Pia Benaud, Research Fellow at the University of Exeter (38:57); Jody Vallance, Communication and Engagement Officer at Moors for the Future Partnership (53:53); and Tia Crouch, Peat Ecologist at the National Trust (1:12:32). 

The discussion included the technicalities of monitoring restoration success, what’s working and what isn’t working, how we know whether we’re setting the right trajectories and target end points, to what extent do we cause further harm to peatlands to increase the future benefits, and restoration trajectories for the Fens. 

Emily summed up the workshop by talking about how we need to be clearer in our language when talking about restoration and finished with, “What we can take away is that we need to be patient about the recovery of the patient!”  

You can watch the full workshop here or download the slides from the workshop.  

Restoration trajectories workshop


7. Cultural heritage and peat 

This workshop, chaired by Hannah Fluck, Senior National Archaeologist at the National Trust, explored the relationship between cultural heritage and peat and why heritage matters to peatland restoration. Hannah quoted Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC, ‘Our culture and heritage are windows into millennia of human experience from which we can draw and use them to shape our strategies to adapt and to make our communities more resilient to climate change risks and challenges.’ 

Melanie Giles, Professor in European Prehistory at the University of Manchester and Rose Ferraby, artist and archaeologist (07:25), introduced the collaborative project ‘Peat: Past, Present and Future’, which explores the archaeology, cultural value and ecology of peatlands through visual art and poetry. 

Kat Hopwood-Lewis, HE Senior Advisor (Peatlands) at Natural England (30:50) discussed the regulation of heritage in peatland restoration, including relevant legislation, grant scheme requirements and how to avoid issues. 

Tom Gardner, Senior Ancient Monuments Officer at Historic Environment Scotland (50:48) provided an overview of the Scottish system and recent developments, highlighting two significant archaeological sites discovered through restoration walkovers and now scheduled and legally protected.

Anne-Julie Lafaye-Leavey on behalf of Margaret Keane, Senior Archaeologist at Ireland’s National Monuments Service (1:06:05) introduced Ireland’s globally important peatlands and their archaeological significance. She discussed Ireland’s Enhanced Decommissioning Restoration and Rehabilitation Scheme (EDRRS), and the potential and challenges of ensuring that culturally significant remains benefit from restoration efforts. 

Martin Gillard, Historic Environment Officer at South West Peatland Partnership (1:29:02) discussed the diversity of archaeological and historic remains on Dartmoor, and the importance of embedded historic environment officers in facilitating restoration in areas of historic significance.

Ed Treasure, Senior Environmental Archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology (1:44:30), also focused on how heritage contractors can be integrated throughout peatland restoration processes, using a case study of his work with South West Peatland Partnership in undertaking a paleoenvironmental assessment of peat deposits exposed during restoration works.  

A common thread throughout the talks and facilitated discussions was the value of archaeology and heritage in peatland restoration processes, helping people to connect with and understand the importance of peatlands and reasons for land use change. 

You can watch the full workshop here or download the slides from the workshop


8. Principles for sustainable peatland paludiculture  

Paludiculture is a farming system modelled on the profitable production of wetland crops. This workshop explored how the benefits and risks of paludiculture should be considered and addressed within a landscape context. Is paludiculture good for natural lowland peat habitats or does it bring new threats? Small groups identified and discussed the requirements and enablers for paludiculture together with the potential outputs and impacts. 

Elizabeth Stockdale, Head of Farming Systems Research at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany opened the session with a presentation about the benefits and risks of paludiculture in a landscape context. She asked the question, “Is paludiculture good for natural lowland peat habitats or does it bring new threats?” 

There were then presentations from Clifton Bain, Programme Advisor, IUCN UK Peatland Programme (09:29); Jim Milner, Paludiculture Exploration Fund Project Manager at Natural England (20:02); Andrea Kelly, Environment Policy Adviser at the Broads Authority (33:34); and Anthony Hudson, Director of Hudson Architects with Aldert van Weeren from Wetland Products (46:05) showing off some of the building products that paludiculture can be used to make.  

There was also an opportunity for participants reflect on the knowledge gaps both to identify the most suitable locations for paludiculture and to assess the benefits and risks associated with implementation, recognising that in lowland peat landscapes the most likely outcome is the integration of paludiculture within a wider mosaic of land uses. 

A summary of the workshop discussions is available to download. You can watch the full workshop here or download the slides from the workshop.  

Sustainable paludiculture workshop

Final plenary 

Finally, delegates gathered to hear Clifton Bain, Programme Advisor at the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, reflect on this year’s conference and the future for UK peatlands. Clifton has been with the IUCN UK Peatland Programme for 14 years, and sadly retires at the end of this year.  

He started by looking back at the origins of the Programme and how far we’ve come with peatland restoration both within the UK and internationally. He then looked forward to where we go next. He mentioned the 2023 State of Nature report and the fact that at current restoration rates, we’ll achieve 30% of peatlands in good condition by 2050. However, the goal in the UK Peatland Strategy is 60% by 2040.  

Clifton Bain (c) Emma Hinchliffe

He mentioned how in the UK we’ve had a huge injection of cash for restoring peatlands which has been great, but it needs to be upscaled. More importantly, however, landowners need to see beyond restoration and understand what the land will do for them once it is restored, so they are incentivised to keep them in the best state possible. We need to find a common goal for different stakeholders, even if there are different views on how to get there.  

Clifton talked about how we need to engage the public through schemes like Eyes on the Bog. He said, “Society has to understand that this is also a high priority and not just something that can be ignored.” He talked about the campaign for peat-free horticulture and how we are on the cusp of a ban – we cannot falter.   

He reflected on how we need to reconnect people with peatlands. We need to recognise that peatlands are part of us, whether culturally or spiritually. Most people in Britain don’t have that connection with peatlands. That’s a key part of the challenge going forward – how we engage the public.  

He concluded by recognising how far we have come but that there is a massive job to do going forward. We’re not seeing the urgency needed in our elected representatives. How do we convey that now is the time and get policy makers to buy into it? “This is one of the biggest environmental opportunities that we’ve seen, and we can deliver.”  

You can watch Clifton’s full talk here or download the slides.  

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