Just 124 people own most of England’s peat bogs that are crucial for battling climate change

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Burbage Valley with the Kit Kat stones on Higger Tor in the foreground
Burbage Valley with the Kit Kat stones on Higger Tor in the foreground.

Just a few dozen large landowners own the majority of England’s ‘deep peat’, an important carbon sink which could be crucial in the battle against climate change

Campaigner Guy Shrubsole, of Who Owns England, says that just 124 large landowners own 60% of Britain’s ‘deep peat’ — and are putting Britain’s climate efforts at risk by draining and burning it. 

Shrubsole told the Guardian: “England’s single largest carbon store is owned by a vanishingly small number of landowners, whose mismanagement of this ecosystem by burning and draining it is currently adding to the climate disaster.

“The public urgently needs to challenge these landowners to protect and restore our peatlands, so that they help fix climate breakdown rather than making it worse.

“The UK government must tighten its peatland-burning legislation, so that landowners can no longer set fire to our carbon.”

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According to Natural England, a million acres of peat soils store 584 million tonnes of carbon, and emit 11 million tonnes of CO2 due to draining, the Guardian reports. 

Managing the peatlands is key to Britain’s net zero strategy. 

The UK government has committed to only restoring 40% of our deep peat, going by the peat restoration figures in its net zero strategy, much power rests with the landowners, Shrubsole warned. 

The Moorland Association, which represents grouse moor owners in England, said: “Controlled burning in the winter is a crucial tactic for moorland management which removes excess vegetation but does not affect the underlying peat. 

“Managed burning helps prevent and limit the spread of wildfires through the creation of firebreaks and reducing the burnable fuel loads.”

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Earlier this year, campaigners called for the Queen to rewild her estates in Balmoral and Sandringham, suggesting beavers, lynx and even bison could roam the land.

Chris Packham, Rowan Williams and Kate Humble signed an open letter to the Queen which urges her, as well as Prince Charles and Prince William, to consider rewilding their land as a "leader of habitat restoration". 

Campaigners for Wild Card believe animals such as lynx, bison and wolves could be reintroduced in Balmoral, the Queen's private estate in Aberdeen, while beavers could settle at Sandringham, her Norfolk estate. 

The survey of 2,100 adults by Savanta ComRes also found nearly half (47%) of people would think more positively of the Royal Family if they rewilded their land, while only 8% said they'd think more negatively of them for doing so.

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Professor James Bullock, of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, told Yahoo UK: "The vast landholdings owned by the Royals — amounting to 1.4% of the UK — have incredible opportunities for rewilding. Much of Balmoral (owned by by the Queen), and Dartmoor (owned by The Duchy of Cornwall), would naturally be covered in rare temperate rainforest. Today only tiny fragments remain.

"Today Balmoral is run as a sporting estate for activities such as deer stalking and grouse shooting. If rewilded, the Balmoral estate could see the reintroduction of lynx, beavers and wolves which would help stimulate the return of rich and diverse ecosystems. Bison or long horned cattle could also be released to take the ecological place of now extinct ancient aurochs.

"At the Queen’s privately owned Sandringham, pine marten, storks, beavers and red deer could find a thriving habitat if the land was returned to nature. 

"Meanwhile in the Queen’s North Yorkshire moorlands estates — like the Goathland estate — majestic birds of prey such as the Golden Eagle would be perfect for reintroduction into a newly-wilded landscape."

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