The England Peat Action Plan, 2021, defines peatlands as ’areas of land with a naturally accumulated layer of peat, formed from carbon rich dead and decaying plant material under waterlogged conditions’. This build-up of decaying matter creates a rich organic soil that has a high carbon density, even when no longer wet. For the purposes of this policy statement, we are addressing peat soils with a depth of >10cm.
- Within the Dales there are extensive areas of peatland, mainly comprising blanket bog (as well as localised areas of raised bog). Much of the area’s upland heath and moorland is also underlain by peat.
- Peatlands comprise 42% of the area of the National Park. There are 47,000 ha of blanket bog (17% of the England total) and 20,000 ha of upland heath within the National Park area.
- These areas are nationally and internationally important for their wildlife and for the carbon that is stored in the form of peat. It has been estimated that a 30cm layer of peat stores at least the same amount of carbon as tropical rainforest over an equivalent area.
- Climate breakdown is likely to give rise to an increase in torrential rain events, leading to extensive flooding. Actively accreting peatlands with diverse vegetation that includes mosses is more effective in holding rainfall, thus slowing the flow of water from off the hills and reducing downstream flood risks.
- Peatlands significantly contribute to the special qualities of the Dales, forming distinctive scenery, supporting diverse habitats with their rich wildlife, providing important grazing for livestock, as well as opportunities for open-air recreation, including grouse shooting.
- There are many benefits to be gained from thriving peatlands:
- peat is a store of carbon that has built up over decades from decaying vegetation; actively accreting peat very effectively captures carbon;
- moorlands support a wide range of plants and animals, including iconic species such as curlew and golden plover;
- undisturbed peatlands can contain extensive features of historic importance;
- the wide open spaces of the moorlands provide important recreational opportunities such as walking, riding, bird watching and enjoyment of nature.
- There is widespread agreement that action needs to be taken to protect and restore our peatlands. Since 2009, more natural drainage has been restored across over 20,000 ha in northern England, primarily through the Yorkshire Peat Partnership.
- Burning is seen as a key issue, and notably in January 2020 the Committee on Climate Change recommended that peat burning be banned by end of 2020.
- In May 2021 the government published the England Peat Action Plan and brought forward legislation to introduce new restrictions on managed burning on protected blanket bog.
- However the restrictions will only apply to soils with a peat depth of over 40cm in areas designated for their nature conservation value i.e. only around 40% of all blanket bog. Otherwise the intention appears to be to rely on voluntary action by landowners and managers.
- Peat continues to be extracted for use in horticulture and gardening, although this occurs in lowland areas rather than in the uplands of the Dales.
- Historically air pollution, drainage and overgrazing have contributed to the degradation of peatlands, exposing the peat to oxidation, wind and water erosion. Degraded peat does not absorb rainfall effectively, thus leading to the rapid runoff of rainwater.
- Tree planting on peat involves the cultivation of the soil usually by turning it over; this exposes the peat leading to oxidation, and risk of wind and water erosion.
- In addition to these influences, moorland burning, usually undertaken as part of grouse moor management, tends to dry out the peat, making it impossible to return to its natural state. Ground flora can be reduced, particularly Sphagnum mosses which help build peat and thus capture carbon. Burning can affect drainage and reduce biodiversity and variety in plant structure, thus making the peat yet more vulnerable to wind and water erosion.
- There has been a sevenfold increase in burning on peatland in England since 1940s. In Great Britain between 2001 and 2011 burning increased at a rate of 11% a year.
- Degraded peat thus has significant impacts on carbon storage, wildlife, water quality, flooding, air quality and recreational experience. Emission of carbon from oxidation of peat contributes to climate breakdown, while public expenditure is incurred in rectifying poor water quality and addressing flood management.
We believe that:
- All peatlands should be protected, with appropriate management that will achieve biodiversity benefits.
- Restoration of all degraded peat should be undertaken as a matter of urgency, the aim being to have peat that is actively sequestering and storing carbon and is being managed sustainably.
- Peatlands should be managed to encourage their hydrological functioning and accretion, with a diverse range of species and structure in the vegetation and a high proportion of mosses, so that they effectively absorb and retain rainwater, thus slowing run-off and reducing flood risks downstream.
- There should be significant reductions in moorland burning on peat of all depths, inside and outside of areas designated for nature conservation importance.
- Peat soils should be protected from inappropriate tree planting. Where tree cover is being considered, then priority should be given to natural colonisation; any tree planting should only be carried out using nil cultivation.
- Plantations on peatlands should be phased out as part of their planned harvesting cycles.
- There is a need to heighten public understanding and awareness of this issue.
What we will do:
- Campaign for more funding for moorland restoration.
- Campaign for a reduction in the extent and frequency of moorland burning.
- Urge better mapping of the peat resource and monitoring of moorland condition, including extent and frequency of burning.
- Work locally to heighten public understanding and awareness of the vital contribution that our peatlands can make to climate and nature recovery.
- Support the ban on the use of peat in gardening products.
- Consider a citizen reporting system for moorland burning.
- Campaign with other organisations on these issues, such as the Wildlife and Countryside Link which has just published its response to the England Peat Action Plan.
- Support the positive work of YDNPA and other moorland restoration initiatives.
 Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK
 They Work For You: Moorland Burning debate, 18th November 2020
 Wildlife and Countryside Link: Does the government’s long-awaited England Peat Action Plan deliver?