Peatlands received a welcome funding boost in the UK Budget 2020. In a move to support the Governments commitment to tackling biodiversity and the climate change emergencies with a transition towards Net Zero, peatland restoration has been highlighted as a positive investment. The chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the Government will “protect, restore and expand” peatbogs and woodlands with a Nature for Climate Fund of £640 million for tree planting and peatland restoration as well as Nature Recovery Network Fund of £25 million to support habitats and species action in nature recovery areas. Whilst the actual share of the funding for peatlands is not yet known the chancellor did say that 35,000 hectares of peatland are to be restored in England.
This good news follows the Scottish Governments budget for 2020/21 which provides £20 million for peatland restoration in 2020 and a commitment to invest £250 million over the next ten years. With the United Nations General Assembly having proclaimed 2021–2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration there is pressure on all countries to step up restoration efforts and showcase achievements. The UK is respected as a global leader in its work to conserve and restore peatlands and now is the time for a real push in effort to demonstrate a significant national peatland outcome.
The UK Peatland Strategy identifies a target for 2 million hectares of peatland in good condition, under restoration, or sustainably managed by 2040. Work is still underway to get a clear measure of progress and we still don’t have a complete account of peatland restoration across the UK but work for the UK BEIS Emissions Inventory for Peatlands project suggest less than 150,000ha has so far been restored out of 2million ha of peatland in a damaged state. Management under agriculture payment schemes may cover a million hectares but to what extent these activities have been successful in securing peatlands along their restoration trajectory is not known. Even with these uncertainties, we clearly still have some way to go.
Stepping up the UK’s peatland restoration efforts needs further investment along the lines of the targeted funds such as those announced for England and Scotland. Securing the staff expertise to help deliver these projects should be seen as an important component of such funding schemes. Dedicated project staff and stakeholder partnerships are an important cost-effective means of ensuring this money delivers action on the ground.
Securing private funding for peatland restoration alongside the public investment continues to be an important priority and the 2020 budget has announced a Natural Environment Impact Fund of £10 million to support market-based mechanisms. The Peatland Code was designed to support such mechanisms and its operation is closely monitored by the IUCN UK Peatland Programme to ensure it remains a valuable tool that can dovetail public and private funding.
The UK peatland strategy also requires a wider financial commitment beyond capital funds for repairing peatlands to ensure that already healthy and recovering peatlands and their carbon stores are secured for the future. Land managers need ongoing funding support to carry out basic maintenance management and to demonstrate value in having healthy peatlands. Agriculture funding is moving towards recognising that land managers, as custodians of our natural environment, should receive public subsidies in return for delivering public goods such as the carbon, biodiversity and water benefits that peatlands provide. It is important that a clear signal is given to land managers of this ongoing commitment to sustainable management of our peatlands as our agriculture subsidy system evolves.