News Environment, Forestry

Researchers of the Natural Research Institute Finland (Luke) have calculated comprehensive estimates for the management of low-productive drained peatlands. Nearly one million hectares of currently unproductive peatlands could be used to improve biodiversity or profitable land use.

“We examined different options of peatland use from the viewpoints of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, impact on watercourses and financial profitability,” says professor Anne Tolvanen from Luke.

The research team led by Tolvanen presented the results of the LIFEPeatLandUse project at the Monikäyttöä Suomen metsille ja soille (Diverse uses for Finnish forests and peatlands) seminar today in Helsinki.
“The decision-in-principle on the sustainable use of peatlands issued by the Finnish Government in 2012 kicked our research project to a start. The decision set guidelines for research needs, and low-productive drained peatlands clearly required new management options.”

Low-productive drained peatlands are low in nutrients and do not produce much wood. Furthermore, drainage has reduced their biodiversity. They also load watercourses.
“These peatlands have been inefficient for a long time. This problem covers nearly one million hectares of peatlands,” Tolvanen says.

Finnish statistics provide the most accurate estimates

As options for the use of low-productive drained peatlands, the researchers examined leaving peatlands in their current state, the production of bioenergy, high-efficiency wood production, ecological restoration, peat production, peat production and forestation, as well as peat production and drainage. In the estimates, the financial profit produced by peatlands is compared with their biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The calculations illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of different uses and present concrete calculations of the land area, taking different environmental restrictions and financial goals into account. Estimates of the different options are based on measurement-based data material and new calculation methods.

“We have first-rate material here in Finland, using which we can calculate estimates with excellent coverage. This project has involved experts from different fields and general specialists, which is why we can clearly see the big picture,” Tolvanen says.

Large amounts of openly available environmental data were used in the calculations. The most important data was obtained from Luke’s multi-source inventory of Finnish forests.  In addition, the project team used material of Metsähallitus and the Finnish Environment Institute’s information about threatened species.

These estimates are the first of their kind. Rough estimates have been calculated in other parts of Europe, but these results produced in Finland are the most accurate ones that are available.
“No similar examination of several different variables has ever been carried out,” Tolvanen says.

Every peatland is unique

The calculations do not provide any single superior option for poorly productive drained peatlands.
“Absolutely not. Every peatland is unique, which is why it is important that financial profit and ecosystem services are examined at the same time. In this way, we can see what effects different management inputs have,” says Tolvanen.

The effects of peatland use were examined over an interval of 5 to 100 years.
“Surprisingly, the time period has a significant impact on results. Therefore, land use decisions should be based on a long-term examination, as land use also has long-term impacts. Political decisions are made for a five-year period. However, the carbon sequestration of peatlands, for example, spans over hundreds or even thousands of years,” Tolvanen says.

According to Tolvanen, some low-productive peatlands could be significant in terms of carbon sequestration and, therefore, of climate change mitigation. Some could produce wood, while some should be left in their current state, provided that drainage has not reduced biodiversity.

In the LIFEPeatLandUse project, researchers developed Your Own Decision Aid (Yoda), an online service that visualises different land uses. It will be available for use at the beginning of next year.
“In order to have decisions on the further use of areas based on as extensive information as possible, I would like to encourage everyone who makes decisions on the use of peatlands to try Yoda. It helps different parties to assess different options on the basis of their impact and goals.”

The LIFEPeatLandUse project was funded by the LIFE+ fund of the European Union. In addition to Luke, the project involved Helsinki University, Oulu University, the Finnish Environment Institute, Metsähallitus and Vapo Oy.

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