Peatlands Vital for UK Water Security

River draining a peatland in Scotland Credit: Joseph Holden, University of Leeds

Research co-authored by iCASP Director, Professor Joe Holden shows how dependent the UK is on peatlands to supply drinking water.

The study published in Nature Sustainability this week is based on a new global index developed by a group of scientists from water@leeds which estimates that 72.5% of the storage capacity of UK water supply reservoirs is peat-fed water.

Professor Holden, also director of water@leeds says:

 “The UK consumes approximately 1.56 cubic kilometres of drinking water per year that has come from peatlands; that is roughly the volume of 630,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This resource supports the equivalent of 28.3 million people or more than 43% of UK population.”

Any threat to peatlands from rising temperatures, draining or burning is a significant threat to the UK’s water security. It is therefore timely that Defra has announced funding this week for the Yorkshire Peat Partnership and Moors for the Future, both partners in iCASP’s Optimal Peatland Restoration Project.

The iCASP partnership is committed to supporting the restoration work going forward in Yorkshire not least because the largest costs in raw water treatment for water companies comes from removing peat sediment and dissolved organic carbon in water draining from degraded peatlands. Over the past few decades concentrations of dissolved organic carbon in water from UK upland peatlands have increased rapidly due to changes in atmospheric chemistry and peat degradation.

Professor Holden concludes that,

“It’s imperative that we support the great work of peatland restoration agencies and partnerships which are working with water companies to enhance the condition of our degraded peatlands.”