Our Project

‘The Restoration of Cumbrian Peatlands: Quantifying the Carbon Benefits of Blanket Bog Restoration’

Degraded blanket bog section near Loch Muick, Balmoral, Scotland – photo taken by Jack Brennand

Previous UK peatland restoration programmes have been directed toward end-user targets and budget spend, with limited opportunity for monitoring, evaluation, or engagement with the research community. This has prevented the refinement of techniques or the chance to evaluate the success of implemented methods. This project connects world-leading research with a key service provider at a time when peatland restoration is emerging as a priority strand within UK climate and environmental policy.

Barker & Bland Ltd is a leading provider of peatland restoration services in the UK, delivering >30,000 ha of peatland restoration since 2008. Their scientific and land management experience along with the benefit of a ‘long term view’ has enabled them to retain their position at the cutting edge – developing and delivering workable, landscape scale solutions to this critical area of habitat restoration.

Further information about Barker & Bland Ltd can be found at:

https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/saving-peat-bogs.aspx

This project is underpinned by world-leading application of 3D X-Ray CT into environmental contexts, developed by Dr Simon Carr at the University of Cumbria. This research has highlighted the critical reciprocal interactions between organic and inorganic components in determining sediment and soil structure, and the role of structure in controlling functional behaviour, such as hydrological and biogeochemical transfers. Such research has not yet been applied to peatlands and will therefore provide original, innovative research in this area.

This project applies existing research excellence at the University of Cumbria into a new context which has potential global significance. It also facilitates knowledge transfer with Barker & Bland Ltd to inform and develop new practices and protocols for peatland restoration in the UK.

Glenfeshie blanket bog, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. Peat bogs can often be found in previously glaciated environments – photo taken by Jack Brennand

Aims

Research aim: ‘to understand the impact of sediment structural properties on peatland ecology, hydrology, biogeochemical processes and the resulting carbon sequestration and storage’.

Stakeholder aim: ‘to use the research findings to design, implement and evaluate new protocols for peatland restoration. This will result in net reduction of both direct and indirect emissions of CO2 equivalent from damaged peatlands, loosely estimated for the UK as being ~10m T CO2 equivalent per year’.

Our project aims will be met through systematic field observations across carefully selected good, poor, and restored peat locations at a Cumbrian blanket bog site. Samples will be extracted and analysed back in the laboratory using non-destructive techniques. Fieldwork is set to begin in the early spring of 2022 (if the COVID pandemic allows), where we will begin to assess, in detail, the sediment structure and hydrological function of our peat samples (see ‘Proposed Plan’ page for further information). This project applies innovative 3D X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) scanning technology to expose particle matter on a microscopic scale. By using 3D X-ray CT, we hope to analyse individual biogenic gas bubbles and structural properties of the peat (including hydrological porosity and the microscale influence of Sphagnum mosses) alongside water table and geochemical data to interpret functional behaviour. This information will, in turn, allow us to quantify carbon costs and savings in relation to different restoration approaches. We aim for our research to compliment the IUCN Peatland Strategy; highlighting significant areas of focus and the most appropriate methodologies.

Scenic route up to the great blanket bogs of Glenfeshie, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland – photo taken by Jack Brennand

GIS

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing tools are becoming more accurate and accessible than ever before as technology advances. We thoroughly promote the use of GIS within the modern geosciences and expect to apply:

  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
  • Light Detection and Ranging Scanners (LIDAR).
  • Remote sensing.
  • GIS Software.

These tools will allow us to formulate detailed Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) and systematically assess our sites in detail: quantifying peatland extent, aspect, slope, and depth, as well as identifying surface vegetation and relevant features. Vantage Pro 2 meteorological equipment will also be deployed during the sample period to assess the environmental conditions in a format which can be correlated to our findings.

Concluding Remarks

In due course, our vision is to take peatland restoration to the next level, accounting for various costings previous studies have failed to address; owing to an intensive, well informed project. We want to implement new protocols for peatland restoration – responding to how near natural, degraded, or previously restored peatlands should be conserved/manipulated to sequester the maximum amount of carbon, and ultimately negate carbon loss in the UK.

If you are interested in the results or would like to play a more active part in shaping the direction of this research, please feel free to contact us.

Image taken from Eco-I NW website.

Eco-I NW

Our project is part of the Eco-I North West (Eco-I NW); a £14m research development program on offer to businesses across the UK’s North West. The programme is delivered by the following universities: Lancaster (lead), Central Lancashire, Cumbria, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores, and Manchester Metropolitan. This is the first project of its kind, driven by business needs and facilitating a collaborative approach to problem solving. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) also supports the programme through widespread funding; with a joint goal of reducing carbon footprints.

The Eco-I North West challenge:

  • Support low carbon business innovation across the region, including areas of Cumbria and the Lake District National Park, Lancashire, Liverpool City, Cheshire, Warrington, and Greater Manchester.
  • Save an estimated 3,850 tonnes of carbon emissions by encouraging ‘green’ recovery; switching to low carbon technologies.

Further details of Eco-I North West can be found at:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/business/eco-i-nw-project/

Our innovative, collaborative project between the University of Cumbria and Barker & Bland Ltd aims to overcome the Eco-I NW challenge.