Major study to trial peatland restoration methods begins in the Peak District

15 February 2024

Researchers conducting a major long-term study into the effectiveness of different approaches to peatland restoration have begun trialling a range of methods in the Peak District.

On-site monitoring at Combs Moss, near Buxton, will aim to measure the impacts of the restoration techniques on run-off water, carbon levels and biodiversity.

Dr Kirsten Lees, Lecturer in Zero Carbon at the University of Derby, is working with Moors for the Future Partnership on the project, which will test the impacts of different restoration methods on hydrology, biodiversity and carbon. Healthy peatlands store water and slow the flow of rainfall from hills, helping to limit flooding and provide a sustainable source of water. The team is investigating the impacts on these ecosystem services of different restoration methods – planting vegetation such as sphagnum moss, installing dams in eroded gullies, and bunding (using peat from the site to hold the water back).

Peatlands also store significant amounts of carbon, playing a critical role in combatting climate change. As part of the project, Dr Lees and her team will measure the impacts of the changes in water levels on the amount of carbon dioxide and methane they release. Many peatlands in the Peak District and beyond were affected by atmospheric pollution dating back to the Industrial Revolution, leading to intense gully erosion, and causing degradation of the peat and the release of large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

An upland moorland with scientific equipment
Combs Moss

Dr Lees explains:

“Gully blocking, bunding and vegetation planting have all been used in peatland projects across the UK, but there is limited research into their comparative effectiveness. The findings will help restoration groups to channel funding into the most effective projects, improving carbon storage and flood limitation across our upland environments – important factors in the efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.”

Restoration of peatland environments usually involves raising the water table so that the peat remains saturated for much of the year. Healthy blanket bog has a high enough level of water to create an environment that prevents the conversion of organic matter into CO2; however, microbes that convert organic matter into methane work better in a fully saturated environment. The study is measuring how the balance of CO2 and methane emissions changes with the different treatments.

The study is planned to take up to five years and the results will influence which restoration methods are prioritised in future projects. 

The project is supported by the Environment Agency, Nestlé Waters UK, Harris & Sheldon Group, and Severn Trent Water.

Find out more about research at the University of Derby.

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