Irish peatlands to play 'important role' in tackling carbon emissions

Irish peatlands will play a vital role in key areas such as climate change and biodiversity, according to research by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

Developing strategies for the sustainable future management of peatlands in Ireland was a core aim of the research, which found that Irish peatlands contain more than 75% of Ireland's social organic carbon, making it a valuable resource for tackling carbon emissions.

Two species of peatlands new to Ireland were identified in the report, which found that an intact or undamaged peatland can actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the store the carbon within the peat body. However, when the peatland is damaged this important function is reversed, causing carbon to release into the atmosphere. In addition, the peatland must be kept wet to function effectively.

As a result, the research project, which involved government representatives, non-government and specific bodies as well as other stakeholders, concluded by recognising the need for increased protection of peatlands as a valuable resource. It has also made recommendations for the development of a national peatland strategy.

Commenting on the report, EPA director of research, Laura Burke, said: "It will provide useful guidance to policymakers highlighting as it does the important relationship that exists between carbon sequestration, biodiversity and this historical resource."

In addition, the study revealed that peatlands provide habitats for unique and specialist flora and fauna, while two species new to Ireland were identified during the course of this research - a mite (Limnozetes amnicus) and a beetle (Ochthebius nilssoni). Meanwhile, another mite species has been identified which appears to be new to science, which the EPA says demonstrates the diversity of Irish peatlands.

UCD biologist and the lead researcher on the project, Dr Florence Renou-Wilson, said: "It is only in more recent times that we have begun to understand the critical role peatlands play, for example, in the mechanics of climate change. Carbon management could be a key driver for the sustainable management of peatlands."

The EPA has recommended that natural peatland sites are designated for conservation and managed with a view to increasing the total area of near-intact peatland, and called for strict protection of these sites to maintain the maintenance of their carbon storage and sequestration capacity.

The full report Bogland: Sustainable management of peatlands in Ireland (STRIVE Report no. 75) can be viewed here.

Carys Matthews



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