Researchers at the University of Gloucestershire have contributed to a pan-European study that examined 31 peatlands across Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and continental Europe to assess changes in peatland surface-wetness during the last 2,000 years. The multi-university research team, led by Dr Graeme Swindles (University of Leeds), found that nearly half of the study sites are the driest they have been for the last 1,000 years.
While changes to temperature and rainfall have significantly contributed to peatland drying, 13 of the 31 sites had been significantly damaged by human activities. The peatland sites in Britain and Ireland had the most extensive degradation compared with the others, with cutting, drainage, burning and grazing all contributing to peatland drying.
Contributing author Prof. Frank Chambers, from the Centre for Environmental Change and Quaternary Research at the University of Gloucestershire, said:
“The combination of recent climate change and human impact may change some of these peatlands from being net carbon-storing to a source of carbon. To mitigate this, it is important to safeguard peatlands through effective management and active restoration.”
The study includes sites from the £1.4M Euro EC-funded project ‘ACCROTELM’ (Abrupt Climate Changes Recorded Over The European Land Mass), co-ordinated by Prof. Chambers, which looked at moisture changes on peatlands across Europe over the last 4,500 years.
Scientists led by Prof. Chambers at the University of Gloucestershire have shown how the same techniques that revealed the recent drying of peatlands can be used to inform future peatland conservation and management.