Hans von Sonntag | 25.09. 2023

Above: depending on the water situation and the growth of the grass, Smets Benyl mows grass growing on the Zwarte Beek’s peatlands twice a year to maintain the extraordinary habitat. Photo Hans von Sonntag

Eurosite was honoured to help organise the Power to the Peatlands Conference, where we led a workshop focused on expanding peatland restoration through private funding. During the workshop, five experts offered their unique perspectives on the subject. What stood out was the animated discussion that continued even after the official time had elapsed.

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.

Front row from left to right: Wiktor Kotowski (University of Warsaw), Francesca O’Hanlon (Coca-Cola), Malte Schneider (Aeco), photo Hans von Sonntag

Why does peatland restoration spark so much debate?

Francesca O’Hanlon, who oversees Coca-Cola Europacific Partners’ water security strategy, concluded that Coca-Cola Europacific Partners is highly interested in building reliable long-term coalitions between businesses, governments and restoration stakeholders. She got people talking when she said her company is more interested in sponsoring peatland projects than buying carbon credits. The company is wary of being accused of “greenwashing.”

Malte Schneider, founder of start-up Aeco and a collaborator with Eurosite’s Peatland Restoration Accelerator, had a different view. He believes small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can also play a role by investing in high-quality carbon credits to create long-term, economically viable solutions. The main challenge is to build investable, more standardized peatland restoration projects.

This peatland in the Zwarte Beek Valley, Belgium, is managed by Eurosite member Natuurpunt. Photo Hans von Sonntag

The need for metrics

Wiktor Kotowski, professor at the University of Warsaw and founding member of Wetlands Conservation Centre (PL), stressed the importance of having solid metrics to evaluate the success of peatland restoration that can feed into carbon credits. Even if big corporations aren’t interested in carbon credits, there has to be a reliable way to measure restoration impact.

Frank Woesthoff (NABU climate fund) talks to workshop participants. Photo Hans von Sonntag
Paul Leadbitter (NorthPennines AONB) explains the obstacles his team faces in their restoration work. Photo Carolin Frühauf

It’s not just about money

Frank Woesthoff, who manages NABU’s climate fund, pointed out that the real bottleneck isn’t funding but finding suitable areas for restoration. In some countries, the gap between the target and reality of rewetting or restoration is 99 per cent – what has to be changed? It’s not just private money; it’s mainly the process of getting it spent timely and cost-effectively.

Paul Leadbitter, who has restored over 50,000 hectares of peatlands in the last 17 years and who leads the NorthPennines AONB Partnership’s Peatlands Programme as its manager, agreed. He cited hesitant landowners waiting for more attractive carbon credit offers as a significant hurdle.

Different approaches, one goal

Ultimately, everyone agreed that large-scale peatland restoration is crucial for achieving local, national, and global climate goals. Whether it’s through carbon credits or direct sponsorship, the methods may vary, but the mission is clear.

Dianna Kopansky (left, Global Peatlands Initiative, UNEP) and Zuhal Demir (Flemish Minister for Justice and Enforcement, Environment, Energy and Tourism) discuss peatlands-related policy issues while taking part in a field trip related to the Power to the Peatlands Conference, organised by Natuurpunt. Photo Hans von Sonntag
Cyr Mestdagh (Natuurpunt) presents Zuhal Demir with a peat soil sample to smell the scent of a healthy peatland. Photo Hans von Sonntag

The role of policy

One unanimous point was the need for policymakers to step in. Clear guidelines must be established, and incentives should be created to remove barriers hindering peatland restoration today. We have to act together. Land users, landowners, decision-makers, NGOs, scientists and entrepreneurs must find common ground.

Zwarte Beek, Belgium, September 2023. A specialised conservation tractor owned by Flemish NGO Natuurpunt mows grass that grows on wet peatland soil. Photo Hans von Sonntag