The Conversation: Restoring UK Marshes and Peat Bogs will Slow Climate Change

Malaria, which our ancestors called Ague, was once endemic in Britain and Northern Europe. Our ancestors defeated Malaria over 100 years ago by draining dangerous marshes and swamps. But a new generation of climate warriors want to undo this historic effort to keep people safe from a deadly scourge.

Peat bogs: restoring them could slow climate change – and revive a forgotten world

January 12, 2021 2.43am AEDT

Ian D. Rotherham
Professor of Environmental Geography and Reader in Tourism and Environmental Change, Sheffield Hallam University

Bogs, mires, fens and marshes – just their names seem to conjure myth and mystery. Though today, our interest in these waterlogged landscapes tends to be more prosaic. Because of a lack of oxygen, they can build up vast quantities of organic matter that doesn’t decompose properly. This is known as peat. Peatlands could contain as much as 644 gigatons of carbon – one-fifth of all the carbon stored in soil on Earth. Not bad for a habitat that stakes a claim to just 3% of the planet’s land surface.

Peatlands were once widespread throughout the UK, but many have been dug up, drained, burned, built on and converted to cropland, so their place in history has been forgotten. But while most of the debate around using natural habitats to draw down carbon from the atmosphere concerns planting trees and reforestation, some ecologists argue that a far better solution lies in restoring the peatlands that people have spent centuries draining and destroying.

With the government now proposing to do this across the UK, it’s worth unearthing the hidden heritage of these landscapes, and how they once fuelled daily life.

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The British government proposal to restore marshlands is part of The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, a document released last November. The document covers the following proposals:

  • Point 1 Advancing Offshore Wind
  • Point 2 Driving the Growth of Low Carbon Hydrogen
  • Point 3 Delivering New and Advanced Nuclear Power
  • Point 4 Accelerating the Shift to Zero Emission Vehicles
  • Point 5 Green Public Transport, Cycling and Walking
  • Point 6 Jet Zero and Green Ships
  • Point 7 Greener Buildings
  • Point 8 Investing in Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage
  • Point 9 Protecting Our Natural Environment
  • Point 10 Green Finance and Innovation

The peatland / marshland restoration proposal is described in Point 9.

What is the risk of endemic Malaria returning to Britain? I doubt anyone could provide a good answer to that question, but restoring marshy habitats which were once seething with Malaria mosquitoes is like laying out the welcome mat.

Everyone knew about Malaria, or Ague as they called it in William Shakespeare’s time, during the depths of the Little Ice Age. Ague was mentioned at least 14 times in Shakespeare’s plays.

There is no guarantee a new age of deadly Malaria outbreaks in Britain could be controlled using medication. British medical authorities are deeply concerned about the rise of drug resistant malaria strains in Africa and Asia.

A vigorous spraying programme could probably bring a deadly British Malaria outbreak under control, but surely it would be much simpler to avoid a future need to poison the environment with toxic pesticides, by ditching the ill considered British government plan to restore mosquito habitat marshlands and peat bogs.

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via Watts Up With That?

January 14, 2021 at 01:01AM

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