IAP2-22-379

Peatland restoration in practice: Evaluating methodologies for a fair price of restoration

Peatlands have the highest carbon density amongst all terrestrial ecosystems, and their conservation and restoration has been recognised as crucial in mitigating Climate Change. They also support a unique biodiversity and play an important role in the storage, release and quality of water within catchments. Efforts to reverse drainage, erosion and forms of land use that have diminished these important ecosystem services are being made across many countries, and there is a crucial need to understand the impact different forms of peatland restoration have on ecosystem functioning.

Financial incentives have been created to facilitate peatland restoration, and certification schemes such as the Peatland Code aim to connect ecosystem restoration to climate benefits on a voluntary carbon market. Whilst the general benefits of restoring peatlands through re-wetting are accepted by land managers and the scientific community, many specific restoration measures have as yet un-quantified consequences for carbon sequestration, emissions abatement, and thus the greenhouse gas budget. There is a clear need to better understand and predict the specific benefits of peatland restoration on the ecosystem to inform carbon accounting, land management and the role of peatlands in national net zero targets.

Methodology

Fieldwork will focus on measurements of vegetation recovery, greenhouse gas fluxes and aquatic carbon export on recently restored peat areas on Corrour Estate in the Scottish Highlands. The estate has over 7,000 ha of peatlands with some areas having been damaged by former land use including overgrazing by large herbivores. Environmental management at Corrour is now driven by landscape-scale ecological restoration, concentrating particularly on native woodland and blanket bog habitats. The project will focus on the effects of peatland restoration by forestry removal, drain blocking, gully damming, peat hag reprofiling and re-vegetation of eroded areas with bare peat surfaces.

Greenhouse gas measurements across sites ranging in time since restoration (and including un-restored controls) will form a main basis of the fieldwork. Findings are contextualised using vegetation surveys and aquatic carbon transport across sites. There is scope to complement the core fieldwork at Corrour with additional measurements across other peatland areas, such as the Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland, to validate findings across a larger geographical scale. The studentship benefits from the direct support by Corrour to facilitate site access, field logistics and financial contribution to the research, as well as providing experience of restoration ecology in practice. A further important aspect of the studentship is the long-term resilience of ecosystem services following peatland restoration, and its relevance to peatland management and policy via the Peatland Code. Through co-supervision by Dr R. Kerkvliet-Hermans (IUCN UK Peatland Programme), the student will develop protocols and policy tools to inform meaningful rewards and incentives for specific peatland restoration actions under the Peatland Code.

Project Timeline

Year 1

Comprehensive literature review of peat restoration methodology and ecosystem service valuations.
Training in vegetation surveys, soil and water biogeochemistry and greenhouse gas measurements.
Engage with Corrour estate staff, visit restored and unrestored peat areas at Corrour, and identify key research areas. Familiarisation with the Peatland Carbon Code and principles of carbon pricing.
Skills training (e.g., statistics, coding, field methods).

Year 2

Intensive field monitoring of restoration and control sites.
Continued skills training
Engagement with CASE partners and external supervisor for long-term benefits and valuation principles

Year 3

Continued field monitoring, potentially including external sites
Continued engagement with CASE partner and external advisor
Drafting of manuscripts/chapters
Attendance of workshops and conferences to disseminate findings

Year 3.5

Writing of manuscripts and thesis completion
Attendance of relevant meetings and conferences

Training
& Skills

– General soil science and biogeochemistry training
– Peatland ecology and restoration techniques
– Specific lab methods (C & N analysis, gas chromatography, aquatic C and N determinations)
– Measurements of soil trace gas flux
– R-programming for statistical analysis and modelling
– A range of additional technical, statistical and generic skills (e.g. paper writing, hypothesis testing, presentation skills and science communication) will be available through the University of Stirling, CEH and the IAPETUS partnership.

References & further reading

Loisel, J. and Gallego-Sala, A., 2022. Ecological resilience of restored peatlands to climate change. Communications Earth & Environment, 3: 208. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-022-00547-x

Introduction to the Peatland Code: https://www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/peatland-code/introduction-peatland-code
Andersen, R., Farrell, C., Graf, M., Muller, F., Calvar, E., Frankard, P., Caporn, S. and Anderson, P., 2017. An overview of the progress and challenges of peatland restoration in Western Europe. Restoration Ecology, 25: 271-282.

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