Blog: Exploring ways of achieving sustainable future investment into peatland conservation (Moors for the Future Partnership)

Matthew Scott-Campbell, Conservation and Land Management Programme Manager at Moors for the Future Partnership, takes some time to tell us more about this exciting project, including the input from Natural Course.

Peatlands provide a bounty of ecosystem services that benefit our wellbeing on a daily basis, from carbon storage and capture potential, to the natural flood management (NFM) capabilities of a healthy blanket bog. Moors for the Future Partnership is a not-for-profit organisation that has been working for the last 17 years to restore the peatlands of the Peak District and South Pennines, and there is far more still to do. Where traditionally we have sought out and awaited grant funding sources to support key ecosystem services in these landscapes, in the face of the climate emergency, this could simply take too long given the pace of climate change.

Responding to this urgency, Moors for the Future Partnership has been successful in attaining funding for a pilot scheme to develop investment readiness for natural capital-based investments into the region’s peatlands. This pilot facilitates a means of developing supplementary funding streams, to compliment sources of grant funding, by encouraging sustainable private sector investment from like-minded organisations to allow conservation work to continue at pace. This, in turn, will contribute to developing future sustainable funding for peatlands in line with the UK government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

Led by Defra, the Environment Agency, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Triodos Bank UK, the collaborative pilot scheme will support environmental projects to create sustainable funding models that are contributing to four projects in total, hosted by different organisations: National Farmers’ Union, Devon Wildlife Trust, The Rivers Trust and ourselves, Moors for the Future Partnership.

Our involvement in this pilot scheme has been a journey that started with our collaborative work with Natural Course, who initially contacted us about the work that Triodos Bank were undertaking in making a review of natural capital-based projects and opportunities. Our knowledge and expertise as a team in natural capital has been strengthened by our development work with Natural Course, having participated in a pilot to trial GIS mapping and natural capital accounting in 2018, as part of a mapping exercise identifying NFM opportunities. Along with valuable advocacy for investigating natural capital-based approaches with our partners and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority natural capital conferences, our development work with Natural Course was invaluable for the cross-pollination of ideas that shaped our thinking for our bidding work to the scheme.

Our project areas cover the peatlands of the Peak District, South and West Pennines, which are some of the most degraded uplands in Europe. Peatlands have a vital part to play in tackling climate change, storing more carbon than any other terrestrial habitat type. When in a degraded and damaged state, peatlands, rather than being a natural carbon store, are a major source of carbon emissions both in the UK and globally. This accounts for their prominent position in Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, and why it is vital to continue to urgently reverse the damage to our peatland habitats. This collaborative pilot scheme is the first step to putting this government commitment into action. We hope that our involvement in this project will enable the Partnership to develop a green investment mechanism to bring new sources of sustainable investment into the health and future of the Peak District and South Pennines peatlands based on the many ecosystem services benefits derived from them, and ensuring they are protected for generations to come.

In our 17 years of working, we are already seeing a visible change to these uplands as they make the slow transition from vast areas of bare and eroding peat to fully re-vegetated habitats on the road to becoming biodiverse, peat-forming ‘Active Blanket Bogs’. An active blanket bog provides a host of multiple benefits, from biodiversity and clean drinking water, to carbon sequestration and natural flood management – to highlight just a few.

Yet, we need to attract greater investment in order to continue to carry out this work faster and at an even larger scale to protect more of this vital habitat. To date, we have raised and spent over £40 million of funding from both grant sources (EU LIFE, DEFRA, Environment Agency, Natural England amongst others) and investment from our water company partners restoring this landscape, and more remains to be done. The scale of the environmental challenge ahead, including the climate emergency, means that in the future relying solely on grant or public sector funding is no longer sufficient for the urgency with which we need to act in response to the challenges and the timescales associated with these.

Working with investment from water company partners (Yorkshire Water, United Utilities and Severn Trent) over the last 10 years has provided vital supplementary funding for peatland conservation in tandem with grant sources. The approach of our water company partners investing into their upland catchments as part of their Asset Management Programmes (AMP) has been essential to our collective successes to date. This approach to funding conservation as a means of restoring water catchments for improved water quality and other shared outcomes, such as biodiversity and carbon storage, demonstrates awareness and recognition of the need for long-term investment to support the health of the peatland landscape. It is this long-term interest and investment into the landscape, and the resulting ecosystem services, that we are looking to develop further in our investment readiness work.

Moors for the Future Partnership has a track record of successfully blending grant and private sector funding to enable much-needed conservation work to take place, but having a high reliance on grant funding from one project to another is challenging for achieving continuity in project succession, and not always the most efficient way of working. Through this pilot scheme, the Partnership aims to develop an investment and funding structure based on the ecosystem service outcomes of restoring the regions peatland as a means to enable a fully holistic approach to funding the vital conservation work needed. As part of this, investors will be able to see how restoration of the peatlands leads to ecosystem service benefits, which have a value and can be invested in.

Often because the ecosystem services we rely on are intangible these are largely invisible, and as a result can be undervalued, often appearing to be ‘free of charge’ to society. Supporting the health of the natural environment through a payments-for-ecosystem-services approach in relation to peatlands offers a potential way of achieving the much needed conservation work that is still required. It also re-connects local communities, and society at large, with the support systems the natural world provides to them, and in turn enables these to be more appropriately valued and cared for in perpetuity.

We are an innovative Partnership and collaborate with people and organisations that share our values. Currently, there is a policy push and a market pull that we are exploring in a careful manner that champions valuing our ecosystem services, and provides the much-needed investment to support the ongoing perpetuity of our local peatlands. We hope that this project will form a viable ecosystem services-based approach for the region’s peatlands that offers the means of sustainable future funding for the conservation of the landscape, and that offers a range of returns – including financial – for investors.

We are looking forward to getting started on what is a key and pioneering progression to the landscape-scale work that the Partnership has already achieved. Moors for the Future Partnership has always been about seeing what is possible within our vision of creating a sustainable future for the regions uplands through evidence-based conservation. Investigating natural capital-based approaches to achieving this is a natural succession to our work, and one which offers the potential of valuable and timely new ways of securing sustainable investment for peatland conservation.


Peak district

Picture credit Moors for the Future Partnership


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