Assessing peatland status, condition, management and policy for carbon and other ecosystem benefits (REF 2021)
Peatlands cover three per cent of the Earth's land surface yet store more carbon than all the world’s plant biomass combined.
As a result of a variety of land-use pressures, peatlands globally are in a poor state, emitting carbon rather than storing it. Peatlands represent the UK's most extensive semi-natural habitat and largest soil-carbon store, but 80 per cent of UK peatlands are damaged. Globally, damaged peatlands emit more than 5 per cent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gases.
Research by Mr Richard Lindsay, Head of Environmental and Conservation Research at the University of East London (UEL), has been "instrumental" in stimulating improved commitment to sustainable management and restoration of peatlands within decision-making at the global scale by shaping inter-governmental treaties and United Nations (UN) policy development, changes in international law, as well as national policy development within government departments and national bodies together with local initiatives supporting award-winning individual businesses and communities involved in the sustainable management of peatlands.
Assessing peatland status, condition, management and policy for carbon and other ecosystem benefits
Hear from Richard Lindsay
What did we explore and how?
Peatlands subject to arable agriculture alone emit more carbon than any other form of land use. Lindsay's research provides detailed insights into the repercussions of these pressures and offers solutions, influencing inter-governmental decision-making about peatland 'wise use' at regional and global scales.
Lindsay has worked with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, and the EU European Topic Centre to highlight the urgent need for better mapping of the world’s peatlands. Collaborating with the Greifswald Mire Centre and peatland researchers across Europe resulted in Lindsay providing the first comprehensive review of UK peatlands within the context of European peatlands.
Whilst collaborations with Nottingham Trent University and Spanish authorities have resulted in a new understanding of peatlands in the Cantabrian Mountains, and ongoing cooperation with RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and the IUCN UK Peatland Programme has generated a range of published works.
This has led to commissioned research from both Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage, the former requiring detailed analysis for a successful Lands Tribunal case, plus a critical assessment of the UK's longest-running peatland experimental plots, while Scottish Natural Heritage required a critical assessment of the science behind recent planning guidance.
Lindsay is also a lead researcher in the first experimental UK field trials for the concept of 'paludiculture' (farming wetland species on re-wetted soils), working with the SME Micropropagation Services and the Great Fen Project, with funding from Innovate UK and the People's Postcode Lottery.
What is the impact of this research?
At the global scale, Lindsay's expertise has been instrumental in bringing about a wider appreciation and preservation of peatlands and stimulated change within areas as diverse as the use of peat in gardening, the managed burning of blanket bog moorlands, the impact of conventional agriculture on peat soils, and the recognition by authorities both at home and abroad of formerly overlooked peatland habitats.
At a national scale, Lindsay has provided expert evidence for both Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage in relation to specific peatland sites resulting in improved environmental conditions and/or improved understanding of land-use impacts on these sites, achieving major government savings.
Lindsay's research continues to influence decision making. Lindsay's 2004 report on the Derrybrien peatslide caused by windfarm development is widely cited, including by the Scottish Government guidance on assessing peatslide risk and continues to inform rulings of the European Court of Justice, and has brought about changes in policy thinking about the importance of shallow peat in both the UK and internationally.
Publication of the UN-led IPBES Assessment Report on Land Degradation and Restoration, and the drafting of Resolution 43 adopted at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress has stimulated global governmental recognition of the need for action to halt ongoing degradation and urgently initiate restoration of peatlands. This work continues at an international level through Lindsay's active membership of both the UN FAO Restoration Monitoring Task Force and the Ramsar Convention Restoration Task Force, and at a domestic level through Lindsay’s membership of Defra's Lowland Peat Task Force.
There is increasing acknowledgement that conventional farming on peat soils is unsustainable while management practices on upland blanket mires have led to widespread degradation. Lindsay works with several partners, including the SME Micropropagation Services, ADAS and Defra, to develop sustainable ways forward for both upland and lowland practices.
This work has enabled Micropropagation Services to expand and improve business opportunities in both upland restoration and lowland agriculture sectors. Lindsey provides advice about the benefits of such initiatives to policy-making bodies such as Defra and the UK Committee for Climate Change, as is on the Defra-funded Peat Pilots Projects Steering Committee.
Most recently, Lindsay worked with UN Environment Programme to develop a Peatland Pavilion for COP 26, having produced a global assessment of peatlands for the UN-led Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Assessment of Land Degradation and Restoration.
- Research Centre: Sustainability Research Institute (SRI)
- Academic: Richard Lindsay
- Role: Head of Environmental and Conservation Research