Welsh Government launches new peatland strategy

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The management and renewal of Wales’ peatlands has been outlined in a new programme published by the Welsh Government.

The National Peatlands Action Programme seeks to ensure the nationwide delivery of existing peatland policies devised by the Welsh Government, providing a single set of guidelines and advice for partners and land managers.

The programme was launched by Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, commented on the programme: “I am very pleased to launch our National Peatlands Action Programme, which will provide a single co-ordinating set of advice and guidelines to our land management partners throughout Wales.

“As we look towards fulfilling our decarbonisation goals, we need to make good use of every method we have to trap and store carbon – and peatlands are incredibly good at doing so, providing a sustainable form of carbon storage for centuries.

“Unfortunately, due to issues such as drainage, forestry, erosion and intensive management – and as the impact of the climate crisis continues, bringing them back and creating new peatlands will become increasingly difficult.

“As such, we need a single, unified point of co-ordination for land managers across Wales to ensure the sustainable management of our peatlands – and we look forward to working with partners on their restoration.”

Peat is made up of organic carbon which has been trapped in the earth for thousands of years, and it plays a crucial role in naturally trapping and storing carbon.

Peat can only lock down carbon when it is actively growing, and that growth can only take place in healthy habitats – whilst damaged peatlands will release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, meaning it is all the more important that they are properly managed.

Peatlands only make up about four per cent of Wales’ land area, and require a very specific set of conditions to grow.

While many of the peatlands are used for livestock production, they also play a vital role in other areas – including naturally managing flood risk by slowing the flow of streams, and providing habitats for a variety of species.

The new programme seeks to help to manage existing peatlands, and restore many to their earlier condition – as well as helping to slow the decline in their loss.

Wales’ first national peatland action programme outlines a plan of action to be taken over the next five years, with six priority themes:

  • Peatland erosion
  • Peatland drainage
  • Sustainable management of blanket peats
  • Sustainable management of lowland peats
  • The restoration of afforested peatlands
  • The gradual restoration of the highest carbon-emitting peatlands

The programme will target those peatland bodies most in need of restoration with the aim of delivering 600-800 hectares of restoration per year. It also seeks to safeguard those in good and recovering condition.

Sir David Henshaw, Chairman of Natural Resources Wales, added: “The importance of managing peatlands in a sustainable way can’t be over-stated.

“In good condition, they store vast amounts of carbon and harbour a wealth of rare plants and wildlife.

“Peatlands also help store water which can reduce the risk of flooding in lower lying areas.

“They help purify our water supplies and contribute to food production through grazing.

“Some excellent peatland conservation work has been done in recent years but there is still a huge amount to do.

“And there is urgency; we know that climate change – with the prediction of drier summers and wetter winters – will make restoring our most heavily modified peatlands more challenging with time.

“This programme provides the structure and funding for us to increase the scale and pace of peatland restoration, in partnership with landowners and other conservation organisations. Acting now is a real investment in our future well-being.”

National Peatland Action Programme can be viewed on the Natural Resources Wales website.