Protecting our peatlands. A summary of ten years studying moorland management as part of Peatland-ES-UK: heather burning compared to mowing or uncut approaches.

Research output: Other contribution


The presented results are the findings from the first half of a long-term study. Although Peatland-ES-UK has already continued for longer than nearly all other moorland research, it is important that the work covers at least the length of a complete management cycle. To produce results that are robust and long-term enough to guide moorland management policy, we plan to continue the project for another decade. This was the conclusion when our Defra project report9 was reviewed by external scientists after five years, and it remains the case. However, the results to date suggest some very interesting and important findings, which may begin to help any interested parties who are confused by the seeming contradictions in the science previously.

All three management approaches were able to support active, healthy peatlands in which peat can grow and carbon can be stored, which is also the finding from some other long-term studies6. Both burning and mowing release considerable amounts of carbon during or in the first years after management, but this is counteracted by increased absorption later on. Short-term assessments are therefore misleading. Heather management also seems to increase biodiversity and maintain higher water tables in the longer term, compared to areas of unmanaged heather. Where a site is wet enough to use prescribed burning, this seems to be the most suitable option to allow carbon storage, peat growth, reduce heather dominance, increase biodiversity and keep the peatland wet. Where a site is drier, mowing could be more appropriate and may help keep the site wetter in the short-term. This threshold sits at a water table of around 12 cm below the peat surface.
Original languageEnglish
TypeFull Summary
PublisherUniversity of York
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

The final version includes a foreword by Prof Rob Marrs.


  • Peatlands
  • Land management
  • Soil carbon
  • Water quality
  • Diversity

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