Constructive criticism of “Misinterpreting carbon accumulation rates in records from near-surface peat” by Young et al. Further evidence of charcoal impacts in relation to long-term carbon storage on blanket bog under rotational burn management

Andreas Heinemeyer, Mark Ashby

Research output: Working paperPreprint


It is with great interest that we read the recent paper by Young et al. entitled “Misinterpreting carbon accumulation rates in records from near-surface peat”. However, we have some concerns about: (i) the use of an unvalidated deep drainage model to criticise studies investigating the impact of heather burning; (ii) the model scenarios and underlying model assumptions used; and (iii) misleading claims made about net C budgets and deep C losses. We feel that these issues require clarification and, in some cases, correction, especially as Young et al. has been used by a leading peatland policy and conservation body (IUCN UK Peatland Programme) to incorrectly characterise two recent studies by Heinemeyer et al. and Marrs et al. as having “presented misleading conclusions”. We strongly believe that one of the main ways to increase our scientific understanding is through vigorous and factual debate. Whilst we are open to and welcome criticism, such criticism needs to be accurate, balanced and evidence-based. Criticism must avoid unfounded or speculative accusations, especially when based on unrelated and unvalidated model scenarios. Indeed, study aims, hypotheses and discussion sections all need to be considered to ensure any criticism is applicable. We accept that deep C losses can be caused by peatland drainage and that this can lead to the misinterpretation of peat surface C accumulation rates or peatland C budgets. But these issues do not apply to the Heinemeyer et al. study, which investigated two specific and clearly stated burn-related hypotheses (charcoal impacts on peat properties and thus peat C accumulation), which only required comparisons of C accumulation rates within recent peat layers. Moreover, using peat core data collected by Heinemeyer et al., we provide strong evidence that the accusations of deep C losses by Young et al. are unfounded. However, the peat core data from Heinemeyer et al. does highlight the value of the Young et al. model scenarios for predicting short-term C loss caused by recent drainage. Finally, we also highlight the value of a detailed peat layer organic C content (%Corg) assessments to detect potential management (i.e. drainage) induced deep peat C loss.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

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