Scientists Succeed In Protecting The Green Lungs Of Europe

ScientistsSucceed In Protecting The Green Lungs Of Europe

1 February 2008

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Europe — Research carried out by scientists from Earthwatch, theinternational environmental charity, has reinforced the urgent need to protectEurope’s remaining peat bogs.

 Dubbed the ‘rainforests of Europe’ as they are so diverse inwildlife, peat bogs contain more than 20 per cent of the world’s carbon.However, western Europe has lost most of its natural peat bogs, largely due topeat extraction for horticulture.

Over the last three years, Earthwatch scientists have conducted the firstbotanical survey of Yelyna, the largest raised peat bog in Europe and a RamsarWetland of International Importance, which stretches over 26,175 hectares. In2002 a series of fires decimated 85 per cent of the bog, resulting inconsiderable economic loss for local people who rely on the harvesting of swampcranberries.

This research led to the discovery of 17 new locations of eight rare andendangered plants at Yelyna. In response, the Belarus Ministry of NaturalResources announced the creation of a national peat bog monitoring programmethat will ensure plant hotspots at Yelyna are protected.

Two bogs, Velikiiji Moh and Fomino (equating to 5,016 hectares), have also beendesignated as protected nature sanctuaries as a direct result of the research.Between them, these bogs will absorb and store approximately 1,354.32 tonnes ofcarbon dioxide per year – equivalent to the combined emissions of almost 300London households.*

“It is estimated that globally, peat bogs store twice as much carbon asforests,” explains Nat Spring, Head of Research at Earthwatch (Europe).“Even if most people don’t know that the bogs of Belarus exist, protectingthem is of vital importance if we are to combat climate change.”

The bogs of Belarus provide an important refuge for migratory birds as theytravel between western Europe and northern Russia, including the most threatenedspecies of bird in Europe, the aquatic warbler.

The long-term goal of this research project is to inform the effectiveconservation of all of the raised bogs of Belarus. Since 2004, 90 Earthwatchvolunteers have donated their time to help survey these peat lands. They includemembers of the public, corporate employees and Eastern European scientists andeducators funded through Earthwatch’s capacity building programme.

*According to figures from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research,pristine bogs accumulate CO2 at a rate of 0.27 tonnes per hectare per year.Research published in November 2007 by the Energy Saving Trust (EST) combinescar emissions with government figures on household CO2 levels. Households in thecity of London emit 4.6 tonnes of carbon per year.

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