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Peatlands of Eastern Europe

Initiating large-scale protection of peatlands and climate protection

The peatlands of Eastern Europe measure about 280.000 square kilometres and belong to some of the biggest carbon stores next to the tropical rainforests of the Amazon and Indonesia and the Canadian tundra. Just the European part of Russia has 20 billion tons of carbon stored in the peat. There is another 1.3 billion tons in neighbouring Belarus, and more important areas to store carbon are in the northern part of Ukraine.

However, at the moment these peatlands are big emitters of CO2. The European part of Russia comes in second after Indonesia in terms of releasing carbon dioxide out of its drained and mismanaged peatlands. Rewetting and sustainable management are immediately required if we want to reduce greenhouse gases and protect the climate.

Peatlands provide in many ways as ecosystem services. Foremost they
are ideal reservoirs for carbon dioxide. According to Joosten (2009):

  • Peatlands are the most efficient terrestrian biotopes in storing carbon. 
  • In the boreal zone peatlands contain seven times more carbon per hectare than other habitats and ten times that in tropical regions. 
  • Even though peatlands cover only 3 % of the earth's surface they store 500 billion tons of carbon. These are 75 % of carbon in the air or twice the amount of carbon in all of the forests. 
  • If these habitats are being drained they will turn into severe sources of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. 
  • Disturbed peatlands produce 2 billion tons of CO2 p.a..
  • Drained peatland (about 0.3 % of land area) are accountable for 6 % of human-caused CO2-emissions. 
  • Peatlands are important water reservoirs for rainy and dry seasons. 
  • They also have a high ability to filter water. 
  • Undisturbed peatlands are characterised by rare and often endangered flora and fauna.

The Project
By supporting a crucial peatland inventory, organised by the British nature conservation organisation RSPB the Manfred-Hermsen-Foundation not only contributed but provided vital and timely input to the initiative of the German government to finance large-scale rewetting projects in East European peatlands. The publication informs about the status, distribution, availability and management of east European peatlands. The study is an important step before rewetting projects in some areas in Belarus and the Ukraine can begin. The German government now supports several projects worth over 7 million Euros. Belarus started to rewet 10.000 hectares of peatland and the Ukraine to follow. At present the government also supports a feasability study to start projects in the European part of Russia, where the Manfred–Hermsen-Foundation is already engaged in two rewetting projects near Moscow.

The foundation supports a new rewetting project together with the Zoological Society of Frankfurt (ZGF) in the Beloveshskaya Pushcha National Park. The Action Plan of the National Park identifies the restoration of the hydrological regime as one of the most urgent priority activities.