Peatlands and the Public

Peatlands graphic

This web page gathers the work on socio-economic aspects of peatlands and peatland restoration carried out by researchers from the University of Leeds, Scotland’s Rural College and the James Hutton Institute.

This includes research outputs as well as communication tools that can be freely used for research and awareness raising purposes.

Why are peatlands important?

Peatlands, also known as bogs, quags or mires, cover over 400 million hectares of the Earth’s surface, this is: over 3%. They store a third of the world’s soil carbon, which makes them the largest and the most space-effective carbon store of all terrestrial ecosystems. Apart from carbon storage, peatlands provide multiple benefits such as clean water and support for wildlife. 

Peatland degradation and restoration

Peatlands have been historically used for fuel and peatland landscapes have been affected by burning, drainage and forest plantation. This has resulted in very large parts of peatlands being damaged and their benefits being undermined or threatened.

These problems have raised attention with policy makers internationally and progressively restoration programmes are being deployed across the globe. For these programmes to be successful, restoration science and practice needs to be coupled with an understanding of its multiple socio-economics aspects, from the drivers of degradation to the social costs and benefits of restoration outcomes. Moreover, for restoration to be successful it also needs to be socially desirable and we, therefore, require a better understanding of the public’s views on the condition of peatlands and the benefits that can be achieved through peatland restoration.

A group of interdisciplinary social scientists have come together to develop a continuous research programme of work to provide the science based needed for this understanding of socio-economic aspects and public perceptions on peatland restoration. This website presents the main results of this work so far.

Communicating the benefits of peatland restoration to the public

A set of communication tools that provides an introduction to and the benefits associated with improving peatland condition in Scotland. 

There are two communication tools:

Both web links include a mechanism to freely download key parts of the tool (text and drawings). This includes drawings of ecological conditions of peatland and associated narratives, as well as icons representing the benefits in terms of carbon storage, water quality and wildlife habitat. 

After going through the tools, there is also an opportunity to provide feedback which we will use to continue to gather views and preferences by the public and land managers.

Public views and values of peatland restoration: a survey

An online survey administered to almost two thousand Scottish residents forming a representative sample of the overall population was carried out in spring 2016. This survey includes monetary estimates of the values that people assign to peatland restoration. Monetary estimates of peatland values can inform (public and private) investment decisions on peatland restoration (for example, for comparing the costs of restorations with its monetized benefits) as well as informing decisions on where to prioritize restoration.

The results of this study offer an optimistic view for the development of a peatland restoration agenda in Scotland in terms of public support. However, it also shows that it is important to ensure that such agenda recognizes the need to provide appropriate and sufficient information that the public can understand and relate to. A report with the survey results can be downloaded here.

A follow up survey was undertaken in 2017. The new survey paid specific attention to medium and long-term considerations of peatland restoration in the context of climate change. Findings provide further economic arguments for not delaying restoration action. See here the full report on the new survey

The economics of peatland restoration

Using Scotland as a case study, this paper quantifies the non-market benefits of changes in peatland ecological condition associated with changes in ecosystem service provision and depending on the location of restoration efforts. Benefits on a per hectare basis are compared to varying capital and recurrent cost in a net present value space, providing a benchmark to be used in decision making on investments into peatland restoration.

The findings suggest that peatland restoration is likely to be welfare enhancing. Benefits also exceed cost in appraisals of previous and future public investments into peatland restoration. The results thus strengthen the economic rationale for climate change mitigation through improved peatland management. View the full paper here (open access).

If you would like to gain more insights on work on the costs of peatland restoration, this report lays the foundation for data collection and subsequent analysis to enhance our understanding of restoration costs and their variation across measures, peatland condition, and location of restoration sites.

Conservation in the face of ambivalence – public perceptions of peatlands as ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’

Focus groups on perceptions of peatlands in Scotland  showed that perceptions of peatlands are ambivalent and many-facetted, and that they can be understood, metaphorically speaking, as good, bad and ugly at the same time: they can be seen as bleak wastelands; beautiful, wild nature and cultural landscape.

The multiple and ambivalent views of  peatlands seem not stem necessarily from lack of knowledge, but to be linked to biophysical characteristics, history, trade-offs between different uses and differences in personal relationships with nature. To ensure the long-term success of conservation, it is vital to understand and manage different and ambivalent views about and attitudes towards landscapes of a greater or lesser degree of wilderness. 

Find the full paper here (journal subscription applies)

Valuing peatlands’ tipping points

The Valuing Nature Programme’s Peatland Tipping Points project is investigating how changes in climate and how we manage land might lead to abrupt changes, or “tipping points”, in the benefits that peatlands provide to UK society. We will identify early warning signs (such as changes in common insects) and provide evidence about the likely economic and social impacts of reaching tipping points.

This information will be used to develop options for policy and practice that can help prevent tipping points being reached and facilitate restoration and sustainable management of peatlands across the UK.

Project website: http://www.peatlandtippingpoints.com/

Valuing water quality improvements from peatland restoration: evidence and challenges

There is evidence that damaged peatlands can negatively affect the delivery of water related ecosystem services. There is interest in peatland restoration to meet different regulatory targets, including the Water Framework Directive (WFD). A comprehensive assessment of the economic benefits of restoration is missing. This paper synthesises hydrological and bio-geochemical knowledge on peatland restoration, as well as insights in the monetary valuation of water quality improvements in freshwater systems.

This is used to identify challenges in valuing water quality related benefits from peatlands. The paper concludes that there is strong evidence for rapid ecological responses to peatland restoration related to reduced suspended sediment loads, and sufficient evidence that re-wetting will prevent further decline in water quality.

Two main challenges arise for valuation: (1) incomplete evidence of effects of restoration on final ecosystem services and benefits, and (2) the spatial and temporal differences in peatlands’ responses. We suggest developing valuation scenarios on a case-by-case basis, using best available evidence of the changes associated with restoration described by a categorization of peatland status similar to the ecological status ladders developed for the WFD.

These would need to be tested with the public and should include an element of uncertainty in services provision.

Find the full paper here (journal subscription applies)

A framework for valuing spatially targeted peatland restoration

Recent evidence suggests that the degree of degradation of peatlands is substantial, and that there is a significant potential to enhance the delivery of a wide range of ecosystem services by investing in peatland restoration. However, little is known about the social welfare impacts of peatland restoration and in particular how to spatially target restoration activities to maximise net benefits from investments in restoration. This paper investigates the steps required to conduct a spatially explicit economic impact assessment of peatland restoration, and highlights and discusses key requirements and issues associated with such an assessment. We find that spatially explicit modelling of the bio physical impacts of restoration over time is challenging due to non-linear effects and interaction effects.

This has repercussions for the spatially explicit assessment of costs and benefits, which in itself is a demanding task. We conclude that the gains of investing the research needed to conduct such an assessment can be high, both in terms of advancing science yperlinkand in terms of providing useful information for decision makers.

Find the full paper here (journal subscription applies)

Lessons learned from the Scottish Peatland Action Programme

Interviews were conducted with Peatland Action officers to gather and document the experiences gained during the implementation of the Peatland Action programme in Scotland in the period 2012-15. The work documented the approaches used by the peatland action officers and their experiences in relation to barriers and benefits, both in relation to the Peatland Action Programme and in relation to peatland restoration as such. The full report can be found here.

How to make peatland complexity look simple?

Ecosystems degradation, including peatland degradation, represents one of the major global challenges at the present time, threating people’s livelihoods and well-being worldwide. Ecosystem restoration therefore seems no longer an option, but an imperative. For restoration to be successful, restoration science and practice needs to be coupled with socio-economic research and public engagement.

This inescapably means conveying complex ecosystem’s information in a way that is accessible to the wider public. Using peatlands as a paradigmatically complex ecosystem, we put in place a transdisciplinary process to articulate a description of the processes and outcomes of restoration that can be understood widely by the public. We provide evidence of the usefulness of the process and tools in addressing four key challenges relevant to restoration of any complex ecosystem: (1) how to represent restoration outcomes; (2) how to establish a restoration reference; (3) how to cope with varying restoration time-lags and (4) how to define spatial units for restoration.

Find the full paper here (open access).

Research team

The work presented here has been led by Dr Julia Martin-Ortega (University of Leeds), Dr Klaus Glenk (Scotland’s Rural College) and Dr Anja Byg (The James Hutton Institute) in collaboration with other colleagues as specified in each of the specific outputs above.

Funding

The work presented here has been funded by different funding bodies including Scottish Government Strategic Research Programmes (2011-2016; 2016-2021), the Valuing Nature Network (2011-2012) and the Valuing Nature Programme (2016-2018) funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, the University of Leeds Social Sciences Impact Acceleration Account in association with the Economic and Social Research Council (2016); and water@leeds.

Contact us 

You are welcomed to contact us at peatlandsandpublic@leeds.ac.uk for more information on any of the work presented here.