Millions of hectares of drained and abandoned peatlands in European Russia are highly vulnerable to fires, such as those that covered Moscow in smoke during the extremely dry summer of 2010. Rewetting degraded peatlands, especially abandoned peat mining sites, and establishing a sustainable usage will prevent fires and their negative impacts on climate and biodiversity.
Cause and threats
Peatlands cover more than 8% of the Russian territory, making up for as much as 20% of the country’s land area if shallow peat soils are included. Most peatlands have remained untouched, but in European Russia several million hectares of peatlands have been drained and used for agriculture, forestry and peat extraction, in particular in Moscow oblast (province). In the 1990s these uses became unprofi table and the peatlands were abandoned.
Drained peatlands oxidise and release large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. In dry summers, drained peatlands are also highly prone to fi re. The heavy clouds of smoke resulting from peat fi res, such as those in Moscow region in 2010, have a signifi cant economic and public health impact. The fi res also affect biodiversity, degrading the habitats of many species that depend on peatlands for survival. Fire related carbon losses furthermore add to the already signifi cant CO2 emissions from peat oxidation in drained peatlands; peat oxidation and fi res are among the main contributors to global CO2 emissions and thus play an important role in fuelling climate change.
Rewetting drained peatlands returns them to their original water-logged state. Rewetting and establishing a sustainable use of these areas prevents fi res, while also mitigating the negative impacts of peatland degradation on the climate and biodiversity. Rewetting is done by blocking drainage ditches so that the peatlands’ water storage capacity is restored.
Regeneration of the natural vegetation of peatlands helps to restore and maintain their important ecosystem services, such as water regulation, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Sustainable peatland use under wet conditions, including wet agriculture and forestry, is known as paludiculture and can be benefi cial for both economy and ecology.