Closing date: 16:00 on 23 March 2017

NERC invites applications to join a scoping group that will develop the science case for a potential strategic research programme on enhancing resilience of UK peatlands.

This is one of two potential strategic programme areas (SPAs) which have emerged from the ideas process for strategic research. Any potential SPA must meet NERC’s criteria for a strategic programme, so it is possible that neither will result in a funded programme.

Peatlands are one of the most spatially-intensive stores of carbon on land, covering around 3 per cent of the global land area whilst storing one-third of global soil carbon. Within the UK, extensive drainage and cultivation of peatlands for agriculture and forestry production have reversed the naturally-occurring carbon (ie peat) accumulation processes. This has resulted in release of carbon back into the atmosphere, thus acting against climate change mitigation efforts.

Over 80% of UK peatlands are no longer in a near natural state and some are highly degraded. As a result, peatlands are now by far the largest single source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the UK land-use sector. Furthermore, their degradation has been linked to significant changes in water quality, land subsidence, flood risk, and biodiversity loss. This pattern is now being repeated globally with estimates that, whilst drained and degrading peatlands occupy only 0·3 per cent of global land area, they contribute six per cent of all global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.

The high level objective of this SPA is to provide a step change in understanding peatland functioning and services to enable resilient management and mitigate disturbances from environmental change. It seeks a transformation in knowledge on how human land use is currently altering peatland ecosystem processes, and how land use practices can be adapted to protect and restore the important ecosystem functions and services associated with peatlands. The step change in conceptual understanding will have global relevance for developing more sustainable land use practices that work with natural processes. New practices will be essential to achieve climate change mitigation targets and meet growing demands for food, water and biodiversity related services.

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