Marina Škunca | 26.09.2023

While sipping a second cup of mint tea amidst the lush foliage and eclectic decor of the Poznan Palm House, my mind keeps returning to the conference I attended in Antwerp last week. It was the largest European peatlands conference, possibly the biggest one to date. And what an engaging conference it was! With over 500 attendees, it’s no wonder one could take weeks to digest the wealth of information, the sense of fellowship and the recognition of urgency.

The conference celebrates the end of an era with a last gathering of the Interreg North-West Europe project Care-Peat, but also the continuation and beginning of new cooperative peatland projects throughout Europe.

Peatlands provide powerful ecosystem services

Reflecting on the various palms surrounding me, I can’t help but compare them to typical peatland vegetation; this rather prominent display of colours, textures and products with the “hidden” ecosystem services that peatlands provide. And yet, while peatlands account for only 3% of the world’s landmass, peat is the most space-efficient terrestrial carbon sink, capable of storing about twice as much carbon as the world’s forests. To mention just one of those services.

Orsolya Nyárai and Wojciech Mróż standing in the booth of the EUKI projects “Building the European Peatlands Initiative” at the Power to the Peatlands Conference’s Paludifair exhibition. Photo Carolin Frühauf

Europe’s peatlands have been massively degrading for decades, resulting in enormous greenhouse gas emissions. As researchers, land managers, and policymakers try to find effective ways to tackle the current twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, Europe is still notorious for being among the continents with the highest peatland losses.

A whirlwind of inspiring keynote speakers

Looking back to Antwerp, we were taken on a whirlwind journey by inspiring keynote speakers.

    • Hans Joosten explored the entwined history of peatland research and society, tracing back to the earliest writings about swamps in Mesopotamia and Egypt;
    • Dianna Kopansky presented key findings from the Global Peatlands Assessment, European chapter, the most comprehensive assessment of peatlands to date;
    • Kriistina Lång explained recent developments in the policy environment;
    • Catherine Farell painted a picture of the legacy of peatlands in the social and economic fabric of the Irish Midlands and West Coast communities;
    • while with Richard Lindsay, we explored the very depths of the ocean, visited the Eiffel Tower, reviewed one of the greatest intelligence disasters of the 20th century and discussed an identity crisis affecting the fundamental scientific method… all through the prism of peatlands.

However, all these lectures had at least two main points in common:

  • Peatlands need collaboration!
  • We need to act now!

The various fitness checks and assessments in the last few years have shown that despite all the efforts, we have so far failed to halt the biodiversity loss, and the current approach is not fully working. To restore biodiversity, underpinning all the ecosystem services on which humankind depends, we must improve pan-European and worldwide collaboration.

Simply put, we need to do better, and we need help! We need close cooperation, not only among ourselves and between our countries, but also with different stakeholders: local communities, the business sector, private landowners and farmer networks, to name but a few.

Building the European Peatlands Initiative

We wrote previously about a strong desire to build a Europe-wide initiative for peatlands. In Antwerp, we were delighted to have a new opportunity to present our EUKI project to a broad audience of researchers, site managers and policymakers from all over Europe, both in a presentation and at our booth at the PaludiFair. We also appreciated the opportunity to meet with several government officials at an informal event hosted by the Irish government and organised by our colleagues at Bax & Co. and Eurosite to discuss the next steps in developing the European Peatlands Initiative.

Marina Škunca introduces the EUKI project “Building the European Peatlands Initiative” to the Power to the Peatlands audience. Photo Hans von Sonntag

With our EUKI project, we strive to be part of the solution. By providing data and tools and bringing together representatives of national governments, scientists, conservationists, private landowners and farmers to exchange knowledge in workshops and networking events, we hope to give power (back) to the peatlands.

Next step: annual Eurosite meeting

As a next step, our annual Eurosite meeting in Amiens (France), from 7 to 9 November 2023, will focus intensively on this crucial topic in cooperation with the European Landowner’s Organization and our French hosts. Feel welcome! Furthermore, keep an eye on the Eurosite website: in 2024, we will also be organising a number of inspiring peatland events.

The project “Building the European Peatlands Initiative: a strong alliance for peatland climate protection in Europe” is part of the European Climate Initiative (EUKI) of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).