While peatlands are under pressure from a range of human activities, drainage is the immediate and most wide-ranging global threat to the integrity of these ecosystems. Humans have long exploited the world’s peatlands with over 65 million hectares estimated to have been affected by our activity (Joosten et al., 2012). We have taken peatlands for granted, often seeing as them unproductive or even hostile land to be drained when desired for human use. Records dating back as far as the eighth century show that large-scale drainage for agricultural purposes occurred in the Netherlands.
We now have a better understanding of the huge impacts of peatland drainage on carbon storage, water regulation, biodiversity conservation and other ecosystem services, and the resulting economic, environmental and social costs. As well as having “nearly irreversible” effects on peat structure and the ecological services peatlands provide (Oleszuczuk et al., 2008), draining peatlands substantially increases fire risk and can lead to significant loss of soil productivity and even land loss through subsidence.
From collection: Smoke on Water
Nieves Lopez Izquierdo