Major project working to boost peat habitats and ecosystems

A major project will see Harper Adams University academics working with Shropshire farmers who farm on peat to develop ways to boost habitats and ecosystems while maintaining food production.

The Patchy Peat Solutions project, which has received a grant of £494,073, will work with five farmers across the county as well as utilising the Harper Adams Future Farm.

It is one of 13 projects across England which make up the Lowland agricultural peat water discovery pilot. The £3.1 million pilot, funded by the UK Government, will use local partnerships to understand how water can be better managed to rewet and preserve peat soils – with costed water plans being drawn up as a result of the collaborations.

Participating farmers who farm on peat will be at the core of the Patchy Peat Solutions project consortium.

They will work with Harper Adams academics including Dr Casperd, Professor Karl Behrendt, Dr Simon Jeffery, Dr Iona Huang – and Future Farm Executive Project and Programme Consultant Scott Kirby as well as a post-doctoral research assistant.

Dr Casperd said, “We will be working with a variety of industry stakeholders during this year-long project which will explore a number of critical threads relating to agricultural sustainability, habitat restoration and habitat creation.

“These include the monetisation of the natural capital each farm holds, and the management of water resources and carbon stocks.

“We want to know how this peaty land could be managed as a mosaic with conventional farming in a better, more sustainable way to support biodiversity, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and climate change – without negatively impacting on the UK’s food production.”

The project is part of the Lowland Agricultural Peat Water Discovery Pilot funded by the Environment Agency and Defra. It is one of several underway at Harper Adams as the University seeks to extend its research in paludiculture – the practice of farming on wet peat.

England’s peat soils are highly productive with three-quarters of the lowland peat in England used for farming.

However, as peatland is drained and cultivated for farming, the peat oxidises, leading to organic matter in the soils decomposing – which generates increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Re-wetting peat has the potential to reduce these emissions, keeping carbon in the soil.

However, there is much that is yet to be understood about the science and practice of farming on peat following re-wetting – hence the University’s research.

This team will be working with a wider consortium including precision agriculture specialist Clive Blacker, consultant hydrogeologist Rob Low, Downforce Technologies, Professor Fred Worral from Durham University, Kate Mayne of the Strine Internal Drainage Board, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Biodiversity Net Gain specialist Ricardo Gutierrez-Inostroza, Legacy Habitat Banks, and Aqualate Castle Holdings.

Dr Casperd added, “The distribution and nature of Shropshire’s lowland peat is a hot topic in government circles – and beyond.

“It is patchy and lying in discrete pockets – which then provide high quality Grade 1 agricultural land for food production. Its distribution remains unmapped by the new and improved England Peat Map which is due to be launched next year.

“Part of this project will be to ascertain the truth of the historic maps of Shropshire peat in this area.

“That work – and the wider work of our project – obviously draw upon the expertise of both our participating Shropshire farmers and Harper Adams University, as well as that of our wider consortium.

“It is that exchange of knowledge – between farmers, academia, and industry – which will be so key to our discoveries in the coming year.”


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