What’s a Peatland Worth?

The final blog post from our invited speakers comes from Clifton Bain, Director of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Peatland Programme and author of several books including ‘The Rain Forests of Britain and Ireland‘…

For many, blissfully rambling across a peatland, exhilarated by the abundance of wide open space, rich aromas of myrtle and musical calls of wading birds, the experience is priceless. Yet, a lack of recognition of the true costs associated with the services provided by peatlands in traditional economics has led to widespread degradation. Recent work by economists attempts to solve this, with new, measurable values for peatlands now available.

In 2011, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment calculated the benefit peatlands bring to water quality as being worth £1.5 billion per year and the amenity benefits worth another £1.3 billion. UK water companies are acting on this and now spend tens of £millions repairing peat bogs in drinking water catchments, as a more cost effective solution to ‘brown water’ treatment works downstream.

The cost of climate change to society extends into the £billions and is seen by major business leaders as a real threat to our economy. However, we have allowed our largest terrestrial carbon store to degrade and release more carbon into the atmosphere rather than help remove it as a healthy system would.

Degraded peatland landscape: Credit: North Pennines ANOB Partnership

For centuries financial reward has encouraged damaging practices through subsidies for agriculture, forestry and energy production or markets for peat fuel and horticulture products. These failed to recognise the much greater cost of degraded peatlands. Our challenge now is to translate the benefits of natural systems to society into tangible support for those who manage them.

Recent initiatives have seen new approaches seeking to ensure the benefits of healthy peatlands are better reflected in Government funding for land managers. Alongside, we have the emergence of private markets that allow businesses to pay for peatland ‘ecosystem services’. The Peatland Code is one example where carbon savings resulting from the repair of damaged peatlands can provide new income for often economically challenged rural areas.

We are beginning to see a future where a healthy bog is recognised as worth more than a damaged one.