Article Types Article Why bother with bogs instead of trees?

Why bother with bogs instead of trees?


What's so great about bogs you ask? As part of our Let's Plant Moor series with Moors For The Future, Charlotte Kenyon gives an excellent explanation into the benefit of blanket bogs for carbon capture throughout our British landscapes:

Protecting precious bogs & growing trees

By investing in peatland restoration these amazing landscapes can form some of the greatest carbon sinks in the world. A wet pristine bog locks up CO2 in the ground and, unlike trees, has no time limit to the amount of carbon it captures.

The importance of blanket bog

It looks like there’s so much space. Just emptiness everywhere you look. Even the sky looks bigger up here. Is there anything here? Well yes, there is a bog. A type of bog called blanket bog. It doesn’t sound particularly exciting and perhaps at first glance it doesn’t look particularly exciting.

But that’s why bogs need our help. The thing with a bog is that it makes you work for its affection. Get down low, perhaps on your knees, get yourself muddy and a little bit cold and there you’ll see it. The magical mosaic at your feet. Berries, sphagnum mosses, grasses. Greens, reds, oranges and purples. A rainbow but not of the sky.

But to see this magic isn’t easy, especially at the moment when so many bogs aren’t sparkling like they should. And so they are often overlooked, perhaps sometimes for something more obvious like trees.

A sparkling bog

An unhealthy, degraded bog

In the uplands, trees provide habitat for declining woodland birds including tree pipits, redstarts and pied flycatchers. These types of habitats are called clough woodlands and are areas of steep-sided woodland on the edge of open moorland. Important upland habitats in their own right, when they fringe blanket bogs, clough woodlands work in unison with the bogs to provide many benefits for people and the environment. The trees stabilise the slopes and provide a valuable home for wildlife.

Brilliant blanket bog

Blanket bogs are a globally rare habitat. 13% of the world’s blanket bog is in the UK and this makes the UK’s conservation obligations to protect blanket bog of global importance.

Blanket bogs are crucial in the fight against climate change. According to Defra, 1 hectare of restored blanket bog avoids 19 tonnes of carbon loss per year. Peat is the single biggest store of carbon in the UK, storing the equivalent of 20 years of all UK CO2 emissions. The UK’s peatlands store over three billion tonnes of carbon, around the same amount as all the forest in the UK, France and Germany put together.

READ MORE: Why are our moors so damaged?

Blanket bogs also help to clean our drinking water and prevent flooding. The vegetation slows the flow of rainfall, helping to prevent flooding in local towns and villages. Sphagnum moss is a key component of blanket bogs. This tiny moss can hold up to 20 times its weight in water and contributes to 30% reductions in peak discharge of large storms. It also holds back water by increasing lag times (a long lag time means water reaches rivers more slowly, so there is less chance of flooding) by around 20 minutes.

Blanket bogs are home to rare wading birds such as dunlin, weird and wonderful plants like the insect-eating sundew and throngs of insects including dragonflies, large heath butterflies, emperor moths and dazzling jewel beetles.

Why bother about bogs?

A wet pristine bog locks up CO2 in the ground and, unlike trees, has no time limit to the amount of carbon it captures as it has a much longer ‘life expectancy’ - many bogs are several thousands of years old. Trees, however, are more likely to live only into the 10s-100s of years timeframe.

However, a dry, degraded bog – like many in England’s uplands – is a big source of CO2 emissions as carbon is lost to the atmosphere.  We therefore need both new forestry and peat restoration to tackle climate change but ultimately, the best value lies with improving peat. This is because degraded peat releases carbon and can be a huge carbon source, but a healthy peat bog locks carbon into the ground. Additionally, the bogs are already there to work with.

The government’s level of ambition for peatland is currently to restore 35,000 ha by 2025 under the £640 million Nature for Climate Fund. Peat emissions will not fall significantly unless a high level of ambition is set. In addition, over the next 20-25 years to 2045-2050, Government have committed to increase tree planting across the UK to 30,000 ha per year.

Supporting restoration and protection

On moorland landscapes, a mosaic of habitats will combine all these benefits and be an ecologically healthy landscape. To reap the many benefits from both trees and blanket bogs means ensuring that both of them are playing their part; ‘the right tree in the right place’. A sitka spruce, for instance, on a blanket bog is no good, likewise a bare clough is an environmental problem. Sitka spruce is an invasive species and when found on blanket bog, both bog and tree are pitted against each other to compete for resources, to the detriment of both. Where a healthy blanket bog is waterlogged, tree roots take up and drain that water from the peat. Likewise, the trees are not suited to the waterlogged, acidic conditions and struggle against the elements into short, stunted trees.

Moors for the Future Partnership are working to protect these moors and reverse hundreds of years of damage caused by human activity. The BMC are supporting the Partnership’s work to plant sphagnum moss back to where it should be. The Partnership’s expertise lies predominantly with blanket bog restoration and that is why the BMC is supporting it in its aim of reversing the damage done to the “most degraded landscape” in Europe. The Partnership has planted a lot of sphagnum moss, but it needs to plant a lot more to protect these precious peaty places.

Moors for the Future Partnership also work with land managers to plant clough woodland on the fringes of the moors. This mosaic of habitats creates vibrant and healthy moorland landscapes that’s supports a huge array of plants, animals and people too.

SUPPORT: The work of Moors for the Future through the BMC’s Climate Project

READ MORE: Campaign for National Parks calls for greater action to protect peatlands