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UK natural capital: peatlands

23rd July 2019

Peatlands occupy around 12% of the UK land area. This dramatic landscape provides over a quarter of the UK's drinking water and stores a significant amount of carbon making it an important habitat for providing both provisioning and regulating ecosystem services in the UK. Peatlands are also a major tourist destination and provide cultural history contributing significantly to the UK's cultural ecosystem service. They form some of the UK's most extensive wild spaces and are rich in rare and endangered wildlife boosting the UK's biodiversity.

Peatlands include both the highest and lowest value agricultural lands in the country. Agriculture on lowland peats, mainly in the east of England, include areas of high cropping value. However, this activity on peatlands has a negative impact on the peat from drainage and ploughing activities. It is estimated croplands on peat emit a total of 7,600 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year (kt CO2e yr-1) in the UK. Upland peat is used for livestock. When subsidies are excluded from farming income, livestock grazing has a negative contribution to ecosystem services for peatland.

We estimated restoration cost accounts for the UK's peatlands. In the absence of a comprehensive plan to achieve this in the UK we initially used a blunt set of assumptions with the intent of highlighting the trade-offs involved and providing a conservative estimate of cost. The costs of restoring 100% of peatlands could be

significant at between £8 billion and £22 billion but these are approximately one-tenth to one-fifth of the carbon emissions benefits that would be gained. More conservative estimates of the benefits of meeting the committee on climate change objective of having 55% of peatland in good status were of the order of £45 billion to £51 billion over the next 100 years.

2 . Main points

Supply over a quarter of the UK’s drinking water, valued at £888 million in 2016.

Climate regulation through carbon storage has a negative contribution to ecosystem services; only 22% peatlands are in a near natural or rewetted condition, consequently the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) estimated peatlands emitting around 23,100 kt CO2e yr-1 greenhouse gas (GHG) in total.

Estimated time spent for recreation on peatlands in 2016 is 180 million hours valued at £274 million.

Publicly funded research on Peatlands estimated to be £882,796 in 2018.

The net benefits, in terms of climate change emissions alone, of restoring 55% of peatlands to near natural condition are estimated to have a present value of approximately £45billion to £51 billion.

Year Peat (m3)

Total Income

(£m, 2017 prices)

1997 1,619,000 119.0

1998 1,076,000 72.9

1999 1,653,000 101.2

2000 1,626,000 100.9

2001 1,814,000 114.0

2002 973,000 59.3

2003 2,008,000 108.3

2004 1,262,000 68.2

2005 1,505,000 93.8

2006 1,593,000 76.1

2007 885,000 40.6

2008 760,000 42.2

2009 887,000 47.4

2010 1,004,000 48.2

2011 825,000 42.7

2012 568,000 33.0

2013 1,254,000 74.7

2014 795,000 44.7

2015 800,000 36.2

Source: British Geological Survey - Minerals yearbook (2015 data is an estimate) and Office for National Statistics

Read the full report or download as a Pdf at

https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/environmentalaccounts/bulletins/uknaturalcapitalforpeatlands/naturalcapitalaccounts

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