The Peatland-ES-UK project was designed in conjunction with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England to avoid common pitfalls and difficulties experienced in previous research. The study was also overseen by an advisory group with representatives from major interested parties, supporters and funding sources, including the Natural Environment Research Council .

The project studied three moorland peat bogs in northern England to compare areas which were managed either by burning or mowing the heather, or where the heather was left unmanaged. The authors examined three main aspects to see how they were affected by the management approaches: water, carbon and biodiversity.

Landscape view of peat bogs at Risley Moss, Warrington

Peat bogs at Risley Moss, Warrington, England. Photo: KevinHolt / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The research has found that, so far, that all three management approaches can support active, healthy peatlands in the right conditions. Burning and mowing both release considerable amounts of carbon during or in the first years after management but this is counteracted by increased absorption later on. Management also seemed to increase biodiversity and maintain higher water tables in the longer term compared to unmanaged heather.

The report indicated that mowing and controlled burning should be used alongside unmanaged heather moorland, and practitioners should have all three methods available in order to choose the most suitable for their site. The authors noted that wet sites (those with a water table if 12cm below the surface or less) benefited from prescribed burning, but dry sites (with a water table 12cm or deeper) benefited from mowing, as this kept them wetter over the first years. Active management also reduced the risk of dangerous wildfires.

This report marks findings from 10 years of research. The project aims to continue for at least another 10 in order to cover one complete management cycle of approximately 20 years.

Discover more about Peatland-ES-UK on the project website