Government commits to action to combat peat degradation

04 September 2023

A lake with sheep in the background

Following the publication of the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force's report, Defra has unveiled new measures and pilot schemes aimed at preserving and rewetting lowland peat.

The Independent Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force published its report, outlining 14 recommendations to address peat degradation.

Lowland peatlands provide some of the country’s most fertile soils which play a vital role in producing food for our nation. For example, the Fens covers less than 4% of England’s farmed area but produces more than 7% of England’s total agricultural production. However, centuries of draining these areas to support agriculture has led to some peat soils being degraded; these soils emit more than 9 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Robert Caudwell, who is a former NFU council delegate and currently chairs the ADA (Association of Drainage Authorities), chaired the taskforce, which explored how lowland agricultural peatlands can be better managed to safeguard productive agriculture as well as contributing to the government’s net zero by 2050 target.

The government has responded to the report with a commitment to take forward action on all of the recommendations and has announced £7.5 million of new funding for water management projects. 

Balancing soil protection and food production

NFU Environment Forum chair Richard Bramley welcomed the report’s recognition of the need to balance soil protection with sustainable food production, in addition to its acknowledgement of “the complexities of re-wetting of lowland peat to reduce carbon emissions”.

“We are pleased a range of mechanisms, from ELMs through to technical advice and capital grants, will be made available to help improve lowland peatland management.”

The report’s recommendations include:

  • New investment in water storage, management and control
  • Public money for wetter modes of farming on peat soils
  • Technical advice on keeping peat soils wetter
  • Creating viable opportunities in private finance
  • Raising the profile of lowland agricultural peat soils
  • Adopting the task force’s roadmap to commercially viable paludiculture (farming on rewetted peat)

richard bramley 25

“It is crucial that farmers and land managers are included in any local decisions on lowland peat management.”

NFU Environment Forum chair Richard Bramley

Apply now for Water Discovery pilot grant

Defra has confirmed that it will launch two new schemes – the £5.45 million Lowland Agricultural Peat Small Infrastructure Pilot and the £2.2 million Lowland Agricultural Peat Water Discovery Pilot. The first of these is aimed at supporting new infrastructure and monitoring technology while the latter will be delivered by the Environment Agency as part of a move to develop costed water level management plans for raising water levels within peat soils.

The Lowland Agricultural Peat Water Discovery Pilot was launched on 9 August and will support projects of 12 months duration, costed between £50,000 and a maximum of £500,000.

It is recognised that some farmers and landowners will wish to undertake a mixed land management regime that includes wetter farming, paludiculture, peat restoration and continued traditional farming.

The closing date is 27 October 2023. Find out more and apply at: GOV.UK | Lowland Agricultural Peat Water Discovery Pilot.

In addition, Defra is planning to support a research and development programme over the next two years with the Environment Agency.

More detail needed

“It is crucial that farmers and land managers are included in any local decisions on lowland peat management, especially those which involve raising water levels,” said Richard.

“We need more detail about whether the new funding announced for the installation of infrastructure and monitoring technology, to allow more control of water levels for lowland peat, may also deliver parallel benefits for food production, as water is essential for food.”

Mr Caudwell has said he feels “confident that the work that is already underway will give farmers opportunities to develop their businesses and contribute to the challenge of net zero”.

The government has said it will continue to work with Mr Caudwell and will be publishing the new England Peat Map next year.

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