A plan to triple the rate of peatland restoration in Wales to help combat the climate emergency and protect one of the country’s most celebrated birds, the curlew, has been announced by the Welsh government.
The Labour-led administration said it had accepted a raft of recommendations from an expert panel on how to halt biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse across the country’s varied land and seascapes.
It agreed that one of its most pressing was to restore its peaty bogs, moors and mires, which are crucial because of their role in storing carbon, alleviating the risk of flooding by slowing the flow of water from uplands and providing vital habitats for birds such as curlew, skylark and golden plover. It will increase its restoration target from 600 hectares a year to 1,800.
Peatlands in Wales, as across other areas of the world, have vanished over the last few centuries because of extraction, burning, over-grazing and global warming.
The Welsh minister for climate change, Julie James, said: “Taking peat out of the ground has been one of the worst abuses of the planet in the last 100 years and more.” She said restoring peatland was crucial because it sequestered carbon so effectively.
“It is also deeply embedded in our culture and heritage.”
Speaking at a conference at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Carmarthenshire, south-west Wales, James picked out the curlew – gylfinir in Welsh – as one of the creatures that will benefit. The bird’s bubbling, haunting call is traditionally regarded by many as a harbinger of spring but there are concerns there could be as few as 400 breeding pairs left in Wales.
The five-day conference is hearing about a wide range of projects ranging from helping protect the angelshark (Squatina squatina) off the Welsh coast to saving the country’s ancient trees.
The peatland plan follows a “deep dive” commissioned by the Welsh government to assess how nature recovery can best be accelerated.
Its recommendations ranged from improving the condition, connectivity and resilience of protected sites to creating larger conservation areas at sea. Another specific recommendation is to establish a “targeted scheme” to support restoration of seagrass and salt-marsh habitats along the Welsh coastline.
The government said it would accept all the recommendations and establish an independent expert working group to monitor Wales’s progress against the targets. James said “a decade of decisive action” was needed to “jump-start the restoration of our ecosystems”.
A report published in 2019 said that one in six species of flora and fauna was at risk of disappearing from Wales, blaming loss of habitat due to farming and climate change.
Sharon Thompson, of RSPB Cymru and a member of the panel that undertook the deep-dive, welcomed the move on peatland but said it would be important to improve the quality of all protected sites, make them bigger, create new sites and make sure they are better connected.
The Welsh Conservatives accused Labour of “empty rhetoric”. The shadow minister for climate change, Janet Finch-Saunders, said: “It is all well and good for Labour to set a new series of targets but why haven’t we seen this sooner? Labour ministers need to act and act now.”
This article by Steven Morris was first published by The Guardian on 3 October 2022. Lead Image: There are concerns that there could be as few as 400 breeding pairs of curlew left in Wales. Photograph: Mark Robert Paton/500px/Getty Images/500px Plus.
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