Takeaways From the IUCN Peatland Conference

Between Monday the 7th and Thursday the 10th of December, the IUCN Peatland Program hosted their 10th annual conference in partnership with the Welsh Peatland Sustainable Management Scheme (SMS) Project. For the first time, the event was virtual and focussed on ‘From Strategy to Action’. The conference was open to all and saw approximately 560 registered delegates. 23 inspiring sessions were held across the four themed days: 1. UK and international updates; 2. Science: informing strategy and action; 3. A day of virtual field trips; 4. Finance, funding, learning and training. Speakers and attendees shared questions, opinions, thoughts, and suggestions across a wide range of stimulating topics. Crucially, the digital platform was smooth, efficient, and inviting. I made boundless use of the Q&A section on the site; asking numerous questions which were all politely and very well answered. Whilst I would have relished being at the scene, the virtual platform gave me confidence to ask more, and potentially controversial questions. I delved into attendees’ inboxes, interacted and recorded names of influential characters in my domain; an extremely useful feature of this online format.

Turning focus onto the academic aspect of the conference, I was overwhelmed with information. This was my first attendance to a conference representing my PhD program, and in the first two days, I felt pressured to absorb as much information as possible. As I talked more with the delegates, my confidence grew; individuals comforted me on the ‘realistic takeaways’ from attending a meet like this, and I began to thoroughly enjoy the learning environment.

For those who are interested in peatlands, sadly missed the conference, or are simply intrigued, here are my ‘takeaways’ from the IUCN Peatland Conference day by day:

Day 1) UK and international updates:

  • Positive changes are being made within peatland restoration, both internationally and globally – funding is increasing, policies are developing, and the delivery of action is growing.
  • As a community, we are building a strong case for COP-26 in Glasgow; we could see peatland restoration at the forefront of positive climate mitigation.
  • There are however some improvements which need to be addressed:
    • A more strategic approach to policy – the correct actions for the correct locations, and advances in monitoring and reporting.
    • ‘Trade offs’ need balancing when developing new policies.

Day 2) Science: informing strategy and action:

  • ClimateXchange suggested further improvements into informing strategy and action:
    • Evidence based policy.
    • Frame the challenge (and how to).
    • Co-production.
    • Action based.
  • ‘Make everyone a scientist’ was a significant discussion point – standardising the monitoring of peatland restoration could enable more evidence-based policy and practice.
  • Remote sensing can be used to better classify peatland types by comprehensively mapping features and habitats.
    • Though further data input and time will increase its applicability.
  • Martin Evans confirmed a shift towards ecosystem ecology – microbial behaviour can be utilised to demonstrate structure and function – this is something that I have a keen interest in!

Day 3) A day of virtual fieldtrips:

  • First discussions of Brexit – mixed responses from the speakers:
    • Increased flexibility for paludiculture.
    • Major worries about funding.
  • Aims of the project determine the restoration practice – For example, a site at Blaen-y-coed, Wales saw restoration activities which mitigate sediment loss. Whilst the EU-LIFE funded Moors for the Future Partnership, England implemented revegetation and damming to manipulate the site into an active carbon sink.
  • We cannot forget about heritage!

Day 4) Finance, funding, learning and training:

  • The Peatland Code is a promising tool in validating the selling of carbon credits on the carbon market.
    • Works best for large scale projects.
    • Harder to account for within small projects.
    • Lacks some specific measurements (CH4 and forest – > peatland projects).
    • Would work more effectively if Peatland Code validation was incorporated into an ecosystem services package?!
  • Government legislation is needed to ‘level the playing field’ when it comes to the financing and funding of peatland restoration – this would strengthen the importance of peatlands at COP-26.
  • There are different practices being used across Europe – one methodology which ‘stood out’ to me was the GEST-SET, used by the IPCC and INTEREG.

Briefly concluding my ‘takeaways’ from the IUCN Peatland Conference:

  • Pressure on COP-26 – this could see a huge, positive change in peatland restoration practice.
  • A standard methodology (which includes CH4 and N2O accounting) to peatland monitoring would provide a wealth of useful, valid data.
  • Remote sensing will become evermore useful and meaningful for peatland restoration – it should seriously be considered across all projects.
  • Government bodies should inject funding into peatland restoration post Brexit!

Published by Jack Brennand

PhD Student at the University of Cumbria.

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