Peatlands preserve unique archaeological and palaeoecological records. They are living historic landscapes, and are part of our biocultural heritage. Peat deposits are important archives of past human activities and environments, often forming over thousands of years. As such, they are a finite, irreplaceable resource. The waterlogged conditions that characterise peatlands result in the exceptional preservation of natural and cultural organic remains.
As well as preserving evidence of peoples’ past livelihoods and the impact of their actions on the environment around them, peatlands are important carbon stores and support a rich biodiversity. Good peatland management can also help protect high-quality drinking water supplies and mitigate against floods. The management of peatlands requires both careful consideration of these different values and close collaboration between the natural environment and historic environment sectors.
Understanding and recording peatlands
Although peatlands are rich in heritage and archaeology, much of this is unknown, hidden and/or unrecorded. As peatlands are increasingly at risk of loss or change, from direct and indirect threats, it is important that deposits and heritage assets are recorded and understood before they are lost forever.
Historic England Guidance
Our guidance publication 'Peatlands and the Historic Environment: an Introduction to their Cultural and Heritage Value' offers a brief introduction for those interested in peatlands and the historic environment – whether living, working or visiting these special landscapes. It outlines the archaeological, palaeoenvironmental and cultural significance and value of peatlands. It describes where peat deposits are found and the wealth and diversity of heritage assets associated with them – illustrated with examples from both upland and lowland peat settings.
England Peat Action Plan
Over the last few years Historic England has been working closely with Natural England and Defra, promoting the heritage and cultural importance of peatlands. This guidance on the historic environment directly supports the England Peat Action Plan, a long-term vision for England’s peatlands, published by Defra on 18 May 2021.
Standards for delivering environmentally sustainable peatland restoration projects
Historic England and Natural England have also published guidance for peatland restoration projects. We share a joint aim that schemes must deliver long-term protection of historic environment features and palaeoenvironmental remains. Projects should:
- Always seek to avoid damage to historic environment features and the peat deposits
- Always seek to minimise damage where this is unavoidable
- Implement a scheme of mitigation where damage to historic environment features and peat deposits is unavoidable, as approved by Natural England
- Include measures to improve public understanding of, access to, and engagement with, the historic environment
A Historic Environment Assessment is required for all Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Schemes (NCPGS).
Although Historic England is not involved in the horticultural management of historic gardens and properties either directly or through our grant programmes, we do advocate peat-free gardening.
English Heritage has been actively reducing the use of peat or peat products in its horticultural or landscaping activities for a long time, including use in potting compost, as a soil ameliorant or as a mulching material at the historic properties in its care. The trust’s policy statement is available online.