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Moor restoration is vital if Northern Ireland is serious about a green recovery

The RSPB analysis has shown the extent of the challenge facing the NI Assembly and other UK governments to restore and preserve our moors, which are central to combating climate change.

Bogs cover approximately 12% of Northern Ireland’s land area, but 86% of our bogs have been damaged by pressures such as drainage, overgrazing, afforestation, burning and mining in lowland areas. As a result, many of our peatlands are net emitters of greenhouse gases. Despite the urgent need to restore this habitat, only 1% has been restored in the last 30 years.

Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson tabled plans for the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions further and faster than any other major economy over the next decade. The aim was to reduce annual CO2 emissions by 68%. The restoration of bogs must be central to environmentally friendly recreation that benefits the economy, nature and the climate.

In addition to playing a vital role in curbing climate change, peatlands also play an important role in supporting unique plants and rare wildlife, improving our water quality, and preventing flooding in the highlands. By blocking the runoff on the Garron Plateau in County Antrim, large areas of the raised bog have been restored, avoiding the emission of 1,992 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. In Northern Ireland, however, more than three-quarters are degraded while only 1% has been restored in the past 30 years. The new analysis from the RSPB shows that the poor condition of our peatlands results in carbon being released every year equivalent to 5% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK – more annual emissions than any truck on UK roads.

Lapwing, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries

As delegates come together to discuss bog restoration across the UK at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) online moor conference in the UK, Jonathan Bell, RSPB NI, Head of Land and Maritime Policyindicates that Northern Ireland has a long way to go to restore our moors to health:

“Peat covers approximately 12% of Northern Ireland’s land area, but only 14% of that is considered to be in good condition. Due to a range of pressures including drainage, overgrazing, afforestation, burning and mining in lowland areas, only 1% of moorland has been restored by NI in the past 30 years. “By working as partners in some of our most valuable landscapes, we have recognized the benefits that bog restoration can bring to the climate, nature and people.

“This important work needs to be expanded to ensure that these habitats play an important role in managing natural and climate emergencies and ensuring environmentally friendly recreation. To do this, we need a peatland strategy that is committed to an ambitious restoration program in Northern Ireland. “

Other nations have recognized the need to fund the restoration of peatlands. For example, Scotland has committed £ 250m over 10 years, the Republic of Ireland has recently invested £ 108m and Wales has recently committed to increasing funding.

Peatland restoration is a distributed issue and RSPB NI urges the Northern Irish Executive to act urgently to set clear restoration goals and allocate significant resources to habitat restoration and rewetting to keep greenhouse gas emissions in line with net zero -Goals stop. Across the UK, the RSPB is calling for an end to destructive practices such as the continued extraction and sale of peat, planting trees on bogs, and burning vegetation on bogs.

Martin Harper, RSPB director for global conservation, said: “Peatlands are an incredibly important habitat in the UK for both wildlife and carbon storage. Unfortunately, our analysis shows that they are also in poor condition, bleeding carbon into the atmosphere instead of storing it safely in the ground. We urgently need to do everything we can to restore our moors to health.

“If our peatlands are not restored, they will emit twice as much carbon as would be produced by planting trees in the UK’s 2050 Climate Change Committee’s forest goals. In other words, by continuing to neglect and damage our peat bogs, any carbon the benefits of these new forests will be erased. In order to use the power of nature to combat climate change sensibly, we must restore and protect our moors. “

Jonathan Bell added: “When the peat is restored, the water table rises, bog plants colonize and in due course the bog world arrives. In good condition, the peat returns to its role as a massive carbon store. Fix carbon and improve water quality.

“The poor condition of many of our moors in Northern Ireland means they are emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, undermining our climate ambitions and doing little for people or nature. “Including emissions from degraded moorland could increase total Northern Ireland emissions in their current state by around 9%

“The restoration of bogs would also create jobs. RSPB NI’s recent five-point clean restoration plan calls for a clean restoration fund to be established to carry out this type of restoration on a large scale. “

The restoration of bogs is critical to fulfilling the climate ambition. A new story map shows how the drainage block on the Garron Plateau in County Antrim restored large areas of the raised bog, avoiding 1,992 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.

The analysis and the interactive RSPB story map can be found here: https://arcg.is/0PT8qy

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