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.
In medieval Britain, people harvested peat from fens, heaths, moors and bogs which…