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Agroforestry and peatland restoration can help deliver shift in land use, Hutton researchers say

Peatlands play a key role in storing much of the UK's soil carbon
"There are many potential benefits from agroforestry, from a production point of view but also in terms of biodiversity and we know that farming in the future will have to take into account much more than just producing food"

The UK Committee on Climate Change’s new report's recognition of agroforestry and peatland restoration as key actions to help deliver the major shift in land use needed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 has been welcomed by researchers based at the James Hutton Institute.

Agroforestry is a land management system which combines livestock farming and forestry. It can help with the first two policy objectives outlined by the CCC report – to increase tree planting and encourage low-carbon farming practices - as well as having animal welfare and biodiversity benefits. It also helps to diversify farm income leading to increased social, economic and environmental benefits for land managers and users at all levels.

This system is a major focus of work at the Institute’s Glensaugh farm, which aims to be a climate-positive farm: one that contributes positively to climate mitigation, retain as much water and biodiversity as possible, be adapted and resilient to changes in the climate, while at the same time being financially sustainable. Watch a virtual tour of agroforestry at Glensaugh.

Professor Deborah Roberts, Director of Science at the Institute, says agroforestry can be a hard sell for farmers: “There are many potential benefits from agroforestry, from a production point of view but also in terms of biodiversity and we know that farming in the future will have to take into account much more than just producing food.

"At the moment however the purposeful integration of food and forestry production on the same area of land is seen as an odd thing to do. From the farmer's perspective, it's a huge investment, a huge decision to make. To make that decision farmers need support. ”

Scotland's soils store 3000 megatonnes of carbon, which equates to 186 years of carbon emissions, and our 1.9 million hectares of peatland play a central role in storing much of that carbon. From this extension, about 270,000 hectares (nearly 15%) show evidence of peat erosion. Bearing in mind that the Scottish Government has put into law the toughest targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2030, and to net zero emissions by 2045, the restoration of 50,000 ha of degraded peatland areas by 2020 is one of the targets the current Climate Change Plan is hoping to achieve, and a large programme of restoration is now going to restore Scotland’s peatland habitat and to reduce carbon emissions and soil erosion losses.

Dr Rebekka Artz, a soil scientist within the Institute’s Ecological Sciences department, recently commented: “Eroded peatlands are extremely challenging to restore as they are more frequently found in our uplands and are more difficult to access. Restoration management aims to reprofile erosion gullies and cover bare areas with turfs or sphagnum-rich mulch. This is no mean feat when such sites are covered with snow for a substantial part of the year, experience high rainfall and wind speeds in the autumn and spring, and plant growth rates are so slow.

“In collaboration with Peatland Action (Scottish Natural Heritage) we are focusing on measuring how much carbon is lost from eroded peatland before restoration efforts and then how effective restoration management is. We monitor greenhouse gas emissions on eroded peatland using a specialised weather station, which measures rainfall, wind speed, temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide released from the eroded area both before and after restoration management.”

To learn more about agroforestry at Glensaugh, visit our Agroforestry at Glensaugh page or experience our virtual tour of agroforestry at the farm. This article written by Rebekka Artz and Allan Lilly to mark World Soil Day (December 5th) offers more detail about our work on peatland restoration.

Notes to editors

The five objectives for policy outlined in the UK Committee on Climate Change’s new report on land use are:

  • Increase tree planting – increasing UK forestry cover from 13% to at least 17% by 2050 by planting around 30,000 hectares (90 – 120 million trees) of broadleaf and conifer woodland each year.
  • Encourage low-carbon farming practices – such as ‘controlled-release’ fertilisers, improving livestock health and slurry acidification.
  • Restore peatlands – restoring at least 50% of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat.
  • Encourage bioenergy crops – expanding UK energy crops to around 23,000 hectares each year.
  • Reduce food waste and consumption of the most carbon-intensive foods – reduce the 13.6 million tonnes of food waste produced annually by 20% and the consumption of beef, lamb and dairy by at least 20% per person, well within current healthy eating guidelines.

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Printed from /news/agroforestry-and-peatland-restoration-can-help-deliver-shift-land-use-hutton-researchers-say on 20/02/24 10:29:08 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.