Pioneering project to restore peatlands to their role as natural carbon sinks

Pioneering project to restore peatlands to their role as natural carbon sinks


On the side of a windswept hill in a remote corner of northern England, a pioneering peatland restoration project seeks to restore this degraded natural environment to its role as a sink for natural carbon. 

The “Ridge Graham” project, which mobilizes a tanker truck, a helicopter, an excavator and a team of ten people, aims to restore the site to its original state: waterlogged and CO2 sensor.< /p>

Because currently, on the other hand, the 450 hectares, the equivalent of approximately 840 football fields, of this degraded peat bog located in Bewcastle releases greenhouse gases, as many over-exploited, hampering the UK government's 2050 carbon neutrality target.

Peatlands are wet ecosystems formed from partially decomposed, carbon-rich organic matter.

They cover about 3% of the earth's surface and are the largest natural reservoir of carbon. They also help to minimize the risk of flooding, purify groundwater and preserve air quality.

But when sites deteriorate, usually after being exploited, particularly for livestock farming, they become a source of carbon, responsible for up to 10% of annual global emissions according to the specialized association International Peatland Society.

'Cake icing'

In Bewcastle, a company has for the first time received public funds to restore a private bog: a grant of 813,000 pounds (913,000 euros). Ridge Carbon Capture (RCC) is also working on a dozen similar projects in the country.

“Peatland restoration is incredibly expensive, so you have to find a way to make it economically viable,” notes Betsy Glasgow-Vasey, 28, one of the company's managers.

Going up the hill, it shows the work done since the project was launched in September. Hundreds of small brick dams have been erected and on the heights, barriers made of rolls of coconut fiber have been installed.

The teams covered the ground with heather, because “when the bogs are exposed to the air, that's when they start to release all the emissions from the decaying vegetation,” says Ms Glasgow-Vasey. /p>

Heath cuttings are undertaken wherever there are holes in the vast terrain, “like when icing a cake”.

Carbon market

The UK has seven million hectares of peatland, around 10% of its land area. The 80% of them that are in poor condition and emit ten million tonnes of CO2 per year, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“We must restore our bogs and we have to do it now! “, declares to AFP Renée Kerkvliet-Hermans, coordinator in charge of peatlands within this union, which certifies projects like that of “Ridge Graham” by generating “carbon units”.

In the idea, the costs of the project will thus be offset by the tonnes of carbon generated and resold on the carbon market, which is increasingly crucial for the financing of projects to mitigate the effects of climate change.

< p> Enough to overcome the significant financial obstacles to such a restoration. But government support also remains crucial “because the price of carbon is currently not high enough”, says Ms Glasgow-Vasey.

London wants to restore 35,000 hectares of English peatland by 2025. The authorities “understood that the peatlands we have are very important”, assures Stuart Evans, of the Ridge Graham project. “And they are so degraded.

It is unclear how long it will take for Bewcastle Bog to transition from being a carbon source to a sink, but progress will be regularly assessed.

For Ms. Glasgow-Vasey, the important thing is elsewhere: “we have somehow realized what this type of project can do”.