Fen Peatlands



Image: Woodwalton Fen National Nature Reserves © The Wildlife Trust

Fen Peatlands

Background

Much of the IUCN UK Peatland Programme’s focus up until now has been on acidic bog habitats in the uplands and lowlands of the UK due to an abundance of available data and policy interest in these habitats. However, there is a growing need to address the climate, biodiversity and water impacts resulting from degraded and declining lowland wetlands, including fen peatlands. 

Due to their often fragmented placement in the landscape, there has been little cohesive work on the varied fen habitats across the UK, other than, for example, the national Habitat Action Plan for Fens and some work towards establishing the emissions categories for agricultural fen peatlands. Emissions factors are still to be established for many types of fen peatland and identifying the areas where data is robust and consistent would allow the Peatland Code to look at including fen peatland into its eligibility criteria for restoration.

To support the sustainable management of fen peat soils and habitats, there is scope to develop alternative methods of agricultural production on these peatlands. Wetland farming (paludiculture) is being employed in a number of countries around the world (e.g. Canada, Germany, Indonesia and Peru) to sustainably farm peat soils whilst producing a marketable product. However, paludiculture is underdeveloped in the UK and the scope for implementing these systems is poorly understood. The Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands update is aiming to establish the types of management practices and economically viable products that could be sustainably produced on peat soils. The Inquiry will also examine the policy measures that would need to be implemented to support a shift to more sustainable farming practices on peat.

Objectives

Classification of fen peatland and condition

  • Establish agreed categories of fen peatland and related condition categories, which could be used for the Peatland Code. This classification should cover the range of natural and near-natural fen peatland to those that are under agricultural use and degraded.

Carbon metrics of fen peatland

  • Review recent carbon science on fen peatlands in agricultural landscapes and explore any implications of this new evidence for policy and practice. This should include, but is not exclusive to:
  • High-intensity production of crops on drained peat
  • Extracted industrial (commercial peat extraction on fen peat)
  • Intensive grassland on fen peatland
  • Extensive grassland on fen peatland
  • Near-natural fen systems.
  • Summarise the available emissions data for categories within the classification (established above in ‘Classification of fen peatland and condition’)
  • Highlight categories that are lacking emissions data and/an understanding of emissions pathways.

Productive lowland peat: sustainable wetland land use

  • Summarise the crop products that are likely to be suitable for production in the UK using paludiculture on lowland peat soils1. Set out the potential economic and environmental benefits of these crops vs. crops currently grown
  • Investigate the barriers and opportunities of shifting to wetter forms of farming on peat (paludiculture)
  • Explore the challenges faced (policy and practical issues) by current methods of agricultural production on peat and the long term sustainability of current systems. This should include an assessment of the types and scales of trials needed to upscale and test the economic viability of paludiculture methods and the likely funding to support these trials.

Outputs

Each team is delivering the following:

  • A workshop with relevant stakeholders to scope out topic content plus additional workshops as required
  • A written report presenting a consensus view (where possible) amongst the author team and wider stakeholders; where a concensus view is not attainable the report will present the argument clearly and summarise any knowledge gaps. Protocols will be suggested where possible to address these knowledge gaps
  • A summary briefing in plain-English of the key findings of the report and recommendations for future work, using case studies to provide examples of key points
  • A graphical representation of the topic as a whole, or a key aspect of the topic to be either a) a graphical abstract; b) a summary diagram; or c) an infographic
  • Presentation of findings at an Open Inquiry Event, and in addition the option to present at the 2018 IUCN UK Peatland Programme annual conference.

1 It may be necessary to highlight opportunities that exist for acidic raised bog sites in addition to fen peat e.g. potential production of Sphagnum as a substitute for horticultural peat.

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