Peatland Tipping Points
- Start date: 1 November 2016
- End date: 30 April 2019
- Funder: NERC
- Value: £369,575
- Co-investigators: Professor Andy Baird
The aim of this project is to use UK peatlands as a case system in which to understand how the combined effects of climate change and changes in land use and management (and other drivers, such as atmospheric deposition) may trigger tipping points in the provision ecosystem services. The project will specifically consider tipping points for water quality, climate mitigation and cultural services including biodiversity, recreation, tourism and sense of place. The research will then assess the economic, social and cultural value of avoiding these tipping points versus reaching them, and we will use these insights to inform management and policy to enhance the resilience of natural systems to abrupt changes in future. As the most extensive and well-understood peatland habitat, we focus on blanket bogs, which are the UK's single largest carbon stock.
The project will produce research findings in three themes:
1. Triggers: the research will consider how changes in climate, land use and management might trigger regime shifts in in blanket peatlands to degraded states. It will consider the range of biophysical and social factors that may influence whether these shifts also trigger tipping points in the provision of ecosystem services over space and time. Where possible, we will identify early warnings that may indicate systems are heading towards tipping points.
2. Values: the research will assess the likely ecological, economic, social and cultural impacts of reaching tipping points in the provision of climate regulation, water quality and cultural services (including biodiversity) in blanket peatlands, and provide decision-makers with holistic evidence to guide decisions about whether, where and how to restore these habitats to avoid tipping points for specific ecosystem services.
3. Adaptive management: working closely with stakeholders, the research will consider how different forms of peatland restoration might move blanket peatlands from current degraded states to desirable new stable states that can adaptively sustain the provision of ecosystem services from peatlands under future climate change.
Working in collaboration with the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, the owners of the UK Peatland Code, the projects will explore opportunities for private investment combined with existing agri-environment scheme to adaptively manage and avoid tipping points in peatland ecosystem services. Research findings from each of these themes will provide a range of benefits for policy and practice:
- Evidence of ecosystem service tipping points in UK blanket peatlands that can help prioritise policy measures to prevent key tipping points being reached. Recommendations will include practical restoration and other management options that could be incentivised via Rural Development Programmes, Peatland Action (in Scotland) and the UK Peatland Code, and spatial targeting of incentives and measures to systems and locations where tipping points are most likely to occur
- Evidence that could be used to inform an economic case for investment in peatland restoration, both in terms of avoiding future economic costs and social impacts
- Policy-makers, third sector organisations and practitioners will have early warning indicators that can be easily and effectively used to identify and avoid imminent tipping points
- Evidence to better articulate and quantify the benefits of peatland restoration for delaying and/or avoiding tipping points for multiple ecosystem services as part of the business case for investment in peatland restoration, for UK Peatland Code & Natural Capital Committee