“Millions of people around the world have suffered – and continue to suffer – from extreme weather events… The message cannot get any clearer. We no longer have the luxury of time. We must act now.”

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference in Germany last week, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, inspired thousands of people across the globe.

changes in the blanket bog at Black Hill between 2003 and 2017

The 23rd annual conference comes to a close today after seeing international environmental experts assemble, to discuss climate change and universal commitments to meet emissions targets by 2020.

Store or source

The Moors for the Future Partnership is helping in this fight, by undertaking vital conservation works on some of the most degraded moorland in Europe: the South Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation (SAC), an area at the heart of the UK that spans seven counties including Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester; seven cities, and 14 local authorities.

The SAC is made up of peat moorlands which form the biggest terrestrial carbon store in the UK, storing 40-50% of UK soil-based carbon in just 8% of its land area. Degraded peatlands are at risk of turning a huge carbon store into a carbon source, as bare peat can potentially lose more than a mammoth 500 tonnes of carbon per square kilometre, per year (the equivalent weight of roughly 200 elephants!)

Back to green…

Our partnership is made up of organisations including the National Trust, RSPB, Pennine Prospects and local water companies, which are all striving towards the same goal: to protect active blanket bog across the SAC, and the wealth of benefits it provides to both people and wildlife.

Since 2003, we’ve been working together to turn the black moors green again with our team of conservation and science specialists. An area of our work is the reintroduction of native plants and shrubs to the moors, including Sphagnum, a moss that is able to hold between 10 and 20 times its own weight in water. The tiny plant plays a pivotal role in the climate change battle as it provides a dense cover for soft peat, reducing its erosion and the release of carbon into the atmosphere. The rough ground also helps to slow the flow of water off the moors when it rains, mitigating the risk of flooding in towns across the Peak District and South Pennines, including Glossop, Hebden Bridge and Calderdale.

Capture vs. emissions

To undertake these works across vast, open landscapes, helicopter flights and regular vehicle travel is inevitable. But, as part of our multi-million pound MoorLIFE 2020 project, we’re monitoring our carbon emissions with a pioneering carbon audit, to gather evidence of the extent to which we’re helping to capture carbon over how much emitting.

We undertook a similar review back in 2015 following our original MoorLIFE project; an innovation at the time as it was the first audit of its kind to be undertaken, monitoring carbon emissions on peatland restoration.   The audit calculated that the CO2 emissions produced by the work, to protect 2,500 hectares of Peak District and South Pennine moorland, were 37 times less than the amount of CO2 emissions that were lost annually from the areas of bare peat.

Building on the original carbon audit, this time around, the analysis is a lot more thorough, as we work to include data on annual carbon emissions from staff commutes, electricity usage in the office and conservation works including helicopter flights across four of our partner organisations. Other greenhouse gases such as methane are included, by being converted into their ‘carbon equivalent’ (CO2e). This ensures that all relevant greenhouse gas emissions have been taken into account.

Government targets

Under the Climate Change Act, the Government has committed to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels, by 2055. To do this, ministers have set out five carbon budgets which run until 2032, and limit the amount of greenhouse gas the UK can lawfully release.

Dr Jonathan Walker, our science programme manager, said: “Healthy blanket bogs play an enormous role in the UK’s carbon output and have a very real impact on helping the UK Government meet its carbon targets. Our carbon audit of the MoorLIFE 2020 project is helping us to better evidence the benefit that conserving peatlands has on capturing and locking down carbon, as well as reducing the risk of devastating weather events, like flooding, for local at-risk communities.”

Get involved

Find out more about opportunities to get involved in our fight against climate change. We have roles for data and environmental monitoring volunteers.