Finance Minister Connor Murphy today paid a visit to the peatland restoration project on Cuilcagh Mountain in Fermanagh, exploring a new vision for Northern Ireland’s peatlands with representatives from CANN partners Ulster Wildlife,
“With COP26 approaching and the pending decision by the NI Assembly on the Climate Bill, this visit has highlighted the role of nature-based solutions as an important part of the pathway to net-zero emissions as recommended by the Climate Change Committee,” said Minister Connor Murphy.
Making a long-term difference through natural solutions requires investment, however, there is an important inter-generational return. Restoration of our unique habitats is no exception, particularly peatlands which can provide considerable benefits to our society called “ecosystem services”. These benefits can only happen when peatlands are in good condition. Peat soils cover an estimated 18% of NI’s land area, however, 88% of our peatlands are now considered in need of restoration due to years of drainage, afforestation, wildfire, erosion and historic overgrazing.
Showing Minister Murphy the progress made in restoring areas of Cuilcagh’s degraded peat, Jennifer Fulton, CEO of Ulster Wildlife, said,
“Restoring peatland offer significant value for money preventing the loss of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and in their long-term removal and storage. They are a source of clean water and can reduce the risk of damaging and expensive flash floods downstream, not to mention the cultural and amenity value of these beautiful and biodiverse habitats.”
“Currently, peatlands in damaged condition, are emitters of greenhouse gases. Just one cubic meter of peat – the size of an armchair – holds the equivalent amount of carbon that would be released from a car in 300 return trips from Dublin to Belfast. We have over a billion cubic metres held in our peat soils, storing a massive amount of greenhouse gases, and we need to invest to make sure they aren’t released, harming our efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.”
Peatlands cover just 3% of the world’s surface but store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined. However, peatlands in damaged condition are net-emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs). It is estimated that NI’s degraded peatlands are emitting 170,500 tonnes of CO2 each year, and 223,200 tonnes of GHGs (in CO2 equivalent) in total. Peatlands will be an important part of NI’s climate action plan. An ambitious peatlands restoration programme would provide significant long-term benefits both in reducing carbon emission and in providing vital ecosystem services. If works like those seen in Fermanagh are more widely applied, the emission of greenhouse gases would be stopped almost immediately, and our restored peat soils would become ‘fit for purpose’ to start capturing millions more tonnes of carbon each year. An investment in our peatlands pays dividends annually, a fact which is not lost on the Department of Finance.