Peatlands in peril: The race to save the bogs that slow climate change

Photo taken in Loppi, Finland

Finnish peat bogs that were drained for forestation are now being restored

Jani Riekkinen/EyeEm via Getty Images

LIKE much of Europe, Finland was left economically bereft by the second world war. It needed to ramp up productivity fast and the government decided the answer was forestry, the country’s industrial backbone for generations. Vast tracts of peatland were drained and trees planted, blanketing the swampy ground that covers nearly a third of the country. “These sites are incredibly carbon rich and often have high levels of biodiversity, but they’re not always the best for growing trees,” says Antti Otsamo. Unfortunately, by the time this became clear about half of Finland’s peatland had been degraded.

Environmentally, this posed a serious problem. Without enough water, layers of peat were exposed and easily eroded, leaching carbon dioxide into the air and adding to global warming. Metsähallitus, the group that manages Finland’s state-owned forests, realised that planting trees in such places was no longer an option. Today, it is committed to a different goal: restoration. “If we get the peatlands back underwater, it means the carbon remains in the soil,” says Otsamo, manager for sustainable development at Metsähallitus. “Over time, the natural vegetation will return, drawing carbon from the atmosphere like a sponge. That’s what we’re trying to do now.”

Drain blocking has been taking place in the Langwell & Braemore catchments since 2015 over hundreds of hectares and our current research looks into what the impacts of the restoration are on the peatland condition and processes but also on the surrounding freshwater streams and rivers

In the far north-west of Scotland, conservationists block drainage channels to restore a bog’s hydrology

Roxane Andersen, Environmental Research Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands

Finland isn’t alone. Worldwide, about a fifth of peatlands have been drained, burned or otherwise damaged to make way for forests, farms and infrastructure, or extracted as …

Related Posts