The rainforests on our doorstep
15th May, 2008
Prince Charles has called UK peatlands ‘Britain’s tropical rainforests’ – and like rainforests worldwide, ours are in decline. Trevor Critchley reports on the devastating consequences for global warming
There is black gold beneath the UK’s moors and mountains; not crude oil, but peat, a substance that can absorb and retain huge quantities of atmospheric carbon. It is estimated that around three billion tonnes of carbon is stored in UK peatlands at present – more than the forests of Britain and France put together. But our hills are slowly being eroded, and upland soils are now producing greenhouse gases at an alarming rate.
Peat bogs are found on every continent, from the tropics to the tundra. In the UK, we have around 75 per cent of the world’s heather moorland – a rich, yet endangered source of peat – and 10 to 15 per cent of the global area of blanket bog.
A recent report by Moors For The Future, a partnership funded by Heritage Lottery, in collaboration with scientists at Durham and Manchester Universities, suggests that pristine UK peatlands have the potential to absorb 400,000 tonnes of carbon a year.
The report warns, however, that UK peatlands damaged by drought, fire and erosion could actually emit up to 381,000 tonnes of carbon a year. While peat uplands in Scotland still appear to be absorbing carbon, those in England and Wales are faring much worse....
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