In a bid to combat climate change and support sustainable farming practices, the government has unveiled new measures aimed at improving lowland peat and reducing carbon emissions.
These actions come following recommendations from Robert Caudwell, the independent Chair of the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force, whose report was published today.
Preserving Peat Soils for a Sustainable Future
Peat soils are crucial in the fight against climate change as they store over half of the country’s terrestrial carbon. However, centuries of drainage for agriculture have led to the drying out of peat soils, causing the release of carbon into the atmosphere. Currently, only 1% of England’s lowland peatlands remain in a near-natural state.
By rewetting lowland peat soils, multiple benefits can be achieved, including reduced carbon emissions, improved food security, enhanced wetland biodiversity, and better protection against flooding.
Government Announces Comprehensive Action
To support the preservation and sustainable management of lowland peatlands, the government has committed to implementing all of Robert Caudwell’s recommendations.
Trudy Harrison, the Environment Minister, emphasized the significance of peatlands in the battle against climate change, stating that they house over half of the country’s terrestrial carbon stores and provide resilience for future farming.
The government’s new measures include providing funding for innovative water management schemes.
Over £7.5 million will be allocated to drive advancements in understanding the water challenges associated with lowland peat, transforming the way water is utilized in these regions.
The funding will also support the installation of infrastructure and monitoring technology, enabling better control of water levels.
These initiatives aim to improve resilience to drought and safeguard farming on valuable agricultural land.
By adopting sustainable peatland management practices, the government aims to support the rural economy and the livelihoods of those dependent on the land.
Recommendations for Sustainable Peatland Management
The Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force, established in 2020, diligently explored various ways to improve the condition of England’s lowland farmed peat. Moreover, they sought to ensure the continuation of productive agriculture for years to come.
The Chair of the task force, Robert Caudwell, presented fourteen recommendations to the government and the wider sector for more sustainable peatland management.
Some of the key recommendations include:
- Investing in water storage, management, and control
- Allocating public funds for wetter farming practices on peat soils
- Providing technical advice on maintaining wetter peat soils
- Creating viable opportunities in private finance
- Raising awareness of lowland agricultural peat soils
- Implementing the task force’s roadmap for commercially viable paludiculture (farming on rewetted peat)
Robert Caudwell expressed gratitude to the task force members for their dedication to finding sustainable ways to manage lowland agricultural peat. He emphasized the importance of reducing carbon emissions from lowland peat in the government’s climate change plan.
The new funding will be distributed across two pilots. The Lowland Agricultural Peat Small Infrastructure Pilot, receiving £5.45 million, will facilitate the installation of infrastructure and monitoring technology for better control of water levels in lowland peat areas. The project is being supported by the Association of Drainage Authorities.
The Lowland Agricultural Peat Water Discovery Pilot, funded with £2.2 million, will be delivered by the Environment Agency. This initiative aims to enable local and water peatland partnerships to develop costed water level management plans for lowland peat areas in England.
Alan Lovell, Chair of the Environment Agency, welcomedthe publication of the Caudwell report and acknowledged the crucial role of sustainable water management in protecting the carbon stored in peat soils.
The report’s findings, combined with further research and development, will provide support and incentives for farmers transitioning to more climate-friendly peat soil farming practices.
Supporting Paludiculture and Overcoming Barriers
In addition to the funding for water management projects, the government has announced the winners of the £5 million Paludiculture Exploration Fund grant scheme.
This scheme, administered by Natural England, aims to address barriers to developing paludiculture as a commercially viable farming practice on lowland peat soils.
Twelve projects across England will receive support, focusing on understanding and overcoming obstacles to farming on wet peat soils.
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, highlighted the importance of finding ways to support livelihoods and meet societal needs while halting peat soil degradation. The Paludiculture Exploration Fund will contribute to revitalizing peatlands and promoting profitable and sustainable rural businesses through wetland agriculture.
Government Commitment to Climate Change and Nature-Based Solutions
Today’s announcements align with the government’s commitment to driving international ambition in climate change action and pursuing nature-based solutions.
The projects and initiatives demonstrate the government’s determination to achieve its net zero pathway and deliver on its lowland peat commitments within various plans, including the England Peat Action Plan, Net Zero Strategy, Environmental Improvement Plan, and Plan for Water.
The evidence generated by these projects will inform Defra’s efforts in lowland peat management and contribute to the development of the new England Peat Map, to be published next year.
Furthermore, Defra has already funded the update of the Peatland Code, launched a £6.6 million peatland research and development program, and is working on new farming schemes to support rewetting, restoration, and innovative farming methods in lowland regions.
Collaboration for Sustainable Peatland Management
Recognizing the environmental benefits and the crucial role of lowland peat soils in food production, the government will continue to collaborate with Robert Caudwell, farmers, landowners, and the wider industry to implement the recommendations for sustainable peatland management.
The Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force, chaired by Robert Caudwell, was formed to improve the condition of England’s farmed lowland peat.
The task force comprised national and regional sub-groups, bringing together experts and stakeholders in the field.
The projects mentioned in the press release include the Lowland Agricultural Peat Water Discovery Pilot and the Lowland Agricultural Peat Small Infrastructure Pilot, which will receive funding to facilitate water management and infrastructure installation.
Defra and the Environment Agency are also planning to support a research and development program. Moreover, the program will specifically focus on rewetting peat and investigating various aspects. These aspects include water demand, supply, storage, flood risk management, water quality, biodiversity, and regulation.
About Robert Caudwell
Robert Caudwell chaired the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force, which operated from 2021 to 2022. The task force included representatives from various organizations and experts in paludiculture.