What are Peatlands? Introduction

Hatfield Moors SSSI, South Yorkshire. Photo: Peter Roworth

Peatlands are beautiful and rare environments that have often been described as one of the jewels in Britain’s wildlife conservation crown, but they are also fragile and sensitive to change, whether caused directly or indirectly by human hands. The University of Glasgow’s ‘Bright Edge Deep’ online exhibition is designed to raise awareness of these special landscapes, highlighting their benefits for biodiversity, for ecosystem services such as climate regulation (through carbon sequestration), as well as noting some of the significant threats they face, from drainage, land reclamation for agriculture, to peat cutting for fuel and horticulture. 

Peatlands are a distinctive type of terrestrial wetland that are found on every continent apart from Antarctica. Above ground, these can vary from treeless blanket bog in parts of northern Scotland, to forested swamps in the tropics, including the Peruvian Amazon and the Congo Basin. Peat consists of partially decomposing organic materials, which does not fully decompose due to waterlogging, anaeorobic conditions (oxygen poor), poor nutrients and high acidity conditions. The Ramsar Convention has defined peatlands as: “Peatlands are ecosystems with a peat deposit that may currently support a vegetation that is peat-forming, may not, or may lack vegetation entirely” 

But peatlands are considerably more than just an accumulation of partially decomposed organic material. Our wetlands offer a powerful lens to look at climate change – especially when combined with archaeological, cultural and historical information, that highlights their ecological and human significance. Click on the links below for more information and watch the videos with our experts, Dr Heather Reid, Dr Roy Van Beek and Dr Mairi Davies as they explain their work on peatlands, archaeology and climate change issues in the videos below.