The burning Amazon rainforests, with their jaguars, monkeys, and colorful birds, have grabbed global attention in a way the destruction of the world’s mossy peatlands never has. Yet protecting the world’s peatlands, which store at least twice as much carbon as forests, is critical in the fight against climate change.
Peatlands, also known as bogs, are created when the remains of plants are submerged in waterlogged lands, turning them, over time, into peat with the plants’ carbon still stored inside. Scotland has particularly high coverage of bogs, amounting to 20 percent of its land.
With that said, the Scottish Government estimates that roughly a third of the country’s total — roughly 600,000 hectares — have been degraded because farmers began digging ditches that drained water from the bogs and created rivers. Without the bogs’ acidic water there to preserve them, the dead plants in the peat start to degrade, releasing their carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. To correct past mistakes, landowners are being offered grants by the Scottish government to block the drainage ditches their predecessors were encouraged to dig. A total of €16.3 million ($18 million) has been made available this year to make this happen.
The hope is that 50,000 hectares will have been restored by the end of 2020 and 250,000 hectares by 2030. The government believes the initiative will work since landowners have already discovered that the farming benefits of drainage were not as great as previously thought.
Scotland isn’t the only country trying to restore its carbon-absorbing peatlands. In South Africa, conservation has been combined with poverty relief as the government’s €56.6 ($63 million) ‘working for wetlands’ program has created 15,000 jobs in rewetting and controlling the erosion of 20 bogs.