The story of peat

A little over 3% of the earth is covered in peat.

In the UK approximately 8% of our land is peat. This is a globally scarce environment and we have a comparatively large amount of it.

Peat is 90% water and plays an important role in protection against flooding, the quality of water and carbon storage. UK peatlands store approximately 5.5billion tonnes of carbon which is 36 times more than our woodlands store.

There are several types of peatlands, in the meres &mosses we have:

mires - these contain some peat forming vegetation

bogs - these are "rain-fed", they acquire minerals from rainfall

fens - these acquire minerals not just from rainfall but also from the soil and rocks.

Peat forms where a number of conditions exist simultaneously over a long period of time, these conditions are:

  • the continuous annual growth of vegetation
  • moderate to high levels of rainfall
  • poor drainage leading to water logging of the land
  • low levels of oxygen in the soil

It takes about 100 years to make a peat moss 5 cm deep.  Plant residues decompose and are compacted as they build up, this limits peat building to 0.5mm - 1mm per year.

In the meres & mosses landscape peat formed after the last ice age, the glacial retreat left an undulating landscape with many hollows that filled with water creating lakes (meres) over time some of these lakes started to fill in with vegetation which decomposes to create peat.

Through out history peat has had a long list of uses;

  • As a domestic and commercial fuel and records show it was used as a fuel in Ireland as far back as the 7th century.
  • As bedding for livestock
  • Peat fires used to dry out malted barley for distilling whiskey
  • To mop up oil spills
  • As a filter for gases, odours and liquids
  • As a building material
  • As a packing material e.g. for transporting fruit and vegetables
  • To make textiles




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