Towards an assessment of the state of UK Peatlands

Geographical coverage

Geographical scale of the assessment National
Country or countries covered United Kingdom
Any other necessary information or explanation for identifying the location of the assessment, including site or region name

Peat and peaty soils of the United Kingdom

Conceptual framework, methodology and scope

Assessment objectives

  • To describe the extent and state of UK peatlands, using available information on peatland extent and location, vegetation and land cover, land use and management, and environmental pressures
  • To discuss and compare different interpretations of the concept of peatland and peatland classification schemes across the UK, and compile available information describing their extent, management, cover and condition, thus providing the context to other topics under consideration by the IUCN UK Peatlands Inquiry
  • To identify key gaps in current knowledge necessary to provide a fit-for-purpose assessment of peatlands across the UK

Mandate for the assessment

Much is known about the classification, ecology and palaeoecology of UK peatlands, but recently there has been an increasing emphasis on understanding peatland function, particularly with respect to wider environmental processes considered under the general heading of ‘ecosystem services’.

An understanding of the state of UK peatlands will help to:

  • Support compliance with international monitoring and reporting obligations;
  • Understand how activities, under current and past policy drivers, have affected the peatland resource, for better or worse;
  • Relate this to information on ecosystem services to understand the scale and impact of such changes on peatland functions and support cost/benefits assessment of peatlands;
  • Use this information to identify priorities for restoration and/or management change; and
  • Inform policy, delivery and research activities which will address these priorities.

Conceptual framework and/or methodology used for the assessment

Other (please specify)

This report assesses the state of the UK peatlands, based on available information on the extent, location and condition of peat soil and peatlands, vegetation, land cover, land use, management and a range of environmental influences.

URL or copy of conceptual framework developed or adapted

The conceptual framework is described in the assessment report (JNCC report No. 445) that can be downloaded from

Joint Nature Conservation Committee, 2011. Towards an assessment of the state of UK Peatlands, JNCC report No. 445

System(s) assessed

  • Peatlands, upland moors, bogs, fens or expanses of agriculturally cultivated peat, carbon rich soils

Species groups assessed

Bryophyta, Vascular plants

Ecosystem services/functions assessed


  • Food
  • Water
  • Timber/fibres
  • Energy/fuel
  • Wild species diversity


  • Climate regulation
  • Moderation of extreme events
  • Regulation of water flows
  • Erosion prevention
  • Pollination
  • Pest and disease control

Supporting Services/Functions

  • Habitat maintenance
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Soil formation and fertility
  • Primary production
  • Biodiversity

Cultural Services

  • Recreation and tourism
  • Sense of place
  • Social cohesion, education, aesthetic

Scope of assessment includes

Drivers of change in systems and services


Impacts of change in services on human well-being


Options for responding/interventions to the trends observed


Explicit consideration of the role of biodiversity in the systems and services covered by the assessment


Timing of the assessment

Year assessment started


Year assessment finished


If ongoing, year assessment is anticipated to finish

Periodicity of assessment

One off

Assessment outputs


Joint Nature Conservation Committee, 2011. Towards an assessment of the state of UK Peatlands, JNCC report No. 445

Communication materials (e.g. brochure, presentations, posters, audio-visual media)

Journal publications

Training materials

Other documents/outputs

Tools and processes

Tools and approaches used in the assessment

  • Geospatial analysis
  • Indicators
  • Established common standard for description of extent of peat soil and peatland habitats

Process used for stakeholder engagement in the assessment process and which component

Interdisciplinary expert panels from UK conservations agency with support from UK main research providers. Cross linkage with UK NEA reporting

Key stakeholder groups engaged

Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute ,Countryside Council for Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency

The number of people directly involved in the assessment process


Incorporation of scientific and other types of knowledge

  • Scientific information only

Supporting documentation for specific approaches, methodology or criteria developed and/or used to integrate knowledge systems into the assessment

References to relevant sources of information are indicated in the report that can be downloaded from:

Assessment reports peer reviewed



Accessibility of data used in assessment

References to relevant sources of data and information used in the assessment are indicated in the report that can be downloaded from:

Policy impact

Impacts the assessment has had on policy and/or decision making, as evidenced through policy references and actions

The report provides the first comprehensive assessment on how we define, delineate and describe peatlands in the UK, and considers critically the sources of available information. It also provides comparable synopses of the state of peatlands in the four UK countries. The report informed the IUCN UK Peatlands Inquiry and national policy for the sustainable management of carbon rich soils. National evaluation has been used in State of Soil reporting. Report used for scoping of Feasibility project for Populating the Land Use Component of the LULUCF GHG Inventory (2012). In February 2013, UK Government Environment Ministers issued a statement of intent to conserve peatlands in the UK and British Overseas Territories. In a letter to the IUCN UK Peatland Programme (5th February 2013), the four country Ministers set out a framework for action aimed at protecting and enhancing the natural capital of peatlands recognising their importance for biodiversity, water and climate change.

Independent or other review on policy impact of the assessment


Lessons learnt for future assessments from these reviews

  • It is clear that despite broad agreement on what constitutes a peatland, there is little convergence on methods used to describe and quantify peatlands across national boundaries and specialist topics.
  • The information coverage and intensity of data recorded on peatlands significantly varies across the UK.
  • Site specific studies and one-off surveys have indicated changes in the extent and quality of peatlands. By contrast, the changes in the wider extent and quality of peatlands have mainly been inferred from limited studies rather than extensive survey or statistically valid sampling.
  • Information recorded on peatlands in the past was for specific purposes. Better coordinated and consistent information gathering fit to allow new understanding on the function of peatlands is needed.
  • Policy objectives are needed that will ensure delivery of priority ecosystem services as it may not always be possible to maintain all ecosystem services in all peatlands, given costs, varying priorities of land owners, managers and members of the public, and the fact that some ecosystem services are mutually exclusive in the same location.

Capacity building

Capacity building needs identified during the assessment

Need for more robust assessment of the condition of peatland outwith designated areas identified

Actions taken by the assessment to build capacity

Sharing of data/repatriation of data

How have gaps in capacity been communicated to the different stakeholders

Scoping of national actions for monitoring soil and peatland

Knowledge generation

Gaps in knowledge identified from the assessment

In part driven by the climate change mitigation agenda, extensive work is being undertaken at the UK level to overcome classification differences and monitor soils to improve our estimate of the soil carbon stock. Revision of estimates of the depth and location of peat soils will be a valuable contribution to any future review of the extent and status of peatlands. The report clearly shows that valuable evidence on the extent and the state of peatland can be inferred for each country. However, there are limitations and barriers to combining the information across countries. There is even more limited information available to enable interpretation of how peatlands respond to change.

How gaps in knowledge have been communicated to the different stakeholders

Through a report that can be downloaded from:

Additional relevant information