Natural England - Peat

Peat

Peat is an accumulation of dead organic material that does not fully decompose due to waterlogged conditions.

Peat in the UK forms in three of our protected UK Biodiversity Action Plan habitats:

  • Fens - formed where peat accumulates due to high ground water levels.

  • Raised bogs - which may start as fens but the build up of organic matter raises their surface above the ground water, and they become dependent on rainfall to remain waterlogged.

  • Blanket bogs - where high rainfall causes surface waterlogging, and are so called for the way they cover the land.

The importance of peat

Peat is important for:

  • The species and habitats it supports, which may continue to form the peat itself.

  • The storage of carbon to prevent its loss as greenhouse CO2.

  • The management of water quality and flood risk.

  • The record of the historic environment that it preserves, in its artefacts, stratigraphy and landforms.

  • The wild landscapes in which it forms.

Threats to peat

Our peatlands are under threat from cultivation, agricultural improvement, afforestation, drainage, burning, overgrazing, abandonment and extraction of peat for use as a growing medium or for fuel. Many of these practices dry out the peat, allowing it to rot away.

Where bare peat is exposed, this is sensitive to erosion by wind and water. Almost 84% of the original area of peatland in the Fens has been lost, mostly due to cultivation and drainage. Only 4% of our original area of raised bog remains, and much of our blanket bog has been eroded into haggs, drained by grips, or is rotationally burned for grouse rearing.

The Peat Project

The partnership project to protect and enhance peat soils (The Peat Project) is a joint project between Natural England, Defra, the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, the Welsh Assembly Government, Countryside Council for Wales and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Other government bodies and statutory agencies are currently interested in becoming involved in the project.

The Peat Project aims to provide and share information to promote more peatland restoration, and improve the way we restore our peatlands.

Five project workstrands have been identified:

  1. Mapping - collating information on where peat can be found, how the peat is managed or has been affected by past management.

  2. Policy - reviewing and influencing policy drivers and policy with the aim of promoting peat restoration.

  3. Good Practice - gathering information on what works best for peatland restoration and management and developing this into advice products and guidance.

  4. Reducing the Horticultural Use of Peat - encouraging progress toward the 2010 target for growing media to be 90% peat free by 2010.

  5. Communications - promoting the importance of peatland restoration and management to the wider public. Further information For more information about the Peat Project, please email Natural England's enquiry service.