United for Peatlands – Reporting from the biggest European peatland symposium
The Power to the Peatlands large-scale international conference took place in Antwerp, Belgium between 18 and 21 September. For two eventful days, more than 500 participants had the chance to zoom in on and discuss the scientific, management and policy aspects of peatland restoration and conservation
Attendees included the representatives of NGOs, businesses, policymakers, nature conservationists and site managers, while more than 55% of participants were scientists and researchers. The third day of the conference was reserved for multiple field trips to exemplary peatlands and paludiculture sites in Belgium and the Netherlands. Representing CEEweb and our ongoing European Climate Initiative (EUKI)-supported project “Building the European Peatlands Initiative: A Strong Alliance for Peatland Climate Protection in Europe” Policy Officer and Senior Expert Orsolya Nyárai participated in the 3-day event.
The event was organised by Natuurpunt, the University of Antwerp and the partners of Interreg Care-Peat and ADMIRE, together with the European chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration, the International Mire Conservation Group, Wetlands International, Greifswald Mire Centre, Society of Wetland Scientists and Ecologic Institute.
The first day of the conference provided a platform for inspiring keynote speeches, urgent calls to action, expert workshops and exciting parallel sessions with presentations on wide-ranging topics. Participants at the morning parallel learned about and exchanged views on issues related to modelling GHG fluxes in peatlands, the climate buffer functions of restored peatlands, nature-friendly farming, and the biogeochemical effects of peatland restoration.
While the afternoon sessions included thought-provoking presentations on data for policy, the practical aspects of biodiversity responses to peatland restoration, peatland strategies and priority setting, as well as a discussion on enabling factors of the EU Green Deal for peatlands. The day concluded with key-note speeches on the potential of recent policy developments to safeguard EU peatlands, and the inspiring results of the Interreg North-West Europe co-financed Care-Peat project with the mission to restore the carbon storage capacity of peatlands through powerful cooperations. Dianna Kopansky from UNEP further introduced participants to the objectives and activities of the Global Peatlands Initiative.
On the second day of the Power to the Peatlands conference, there was a greater focus on peatland restoration and rewetting, discussing the evaluation of their success and constraints, required policy alignment, various case studies and the legal aspects of restoration. The parallel sessions included informative and inspiring presentations on topics such as the application of GHG models, the response of peatland biodiversity to disturbance, paludiculture, Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) measures with relevance for peatlands, and potential financial opportunities for restoration. Participants had the possibility to learn more about the European Peatlands Initiative (EPI), as well as about the vision, activities and target groups of the ongoing EUKI Peatlands project, in which CEEweb coordinates the implementation of the Policy work package.
As part of an informal side-gathering, the current Irish coordinator of the EPI process, the representatives of UNEP, the German and the Dutch governments, as well as attending project partners of the EUKI Peatlands project and other interested stakeholders met and shared their ideas, expectations and current plans with regard to the European Peatlands Initiative. During the discussion, participants emphasised the importance of making the most of the current momentum for peatlands, learning together both from past failures and successes, filling in existing information gaps and exploring international trends and best practices when it comes to the protection and restoration of peatlands.
The second day of the conference concluded with a forward-looking and intensive interactive session for all attendees with the aim to co-create the Declaration of the conference (currently available as a draft). The declaration, which is the result of an expert editorial team’s work as well as of the contributions and suggestions of multiple stakeholders at the conference, aims to call decision-makers’ attention to the multitudes of essential ecosystem services that healthy peatlands provide, emphasise the urgency of restoring drained peatlands, and to provide recommendations on how EU-level and national policies and action could measurably contribute to utilising the power of peatlands for climate action, biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods.
Participants agreed that for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of peatlands, the EU’s Nature Restoration Law must include ambitious targeted measures.
Organisations that were represented at the conference have had the possibility to sign the declaration. Once the signing process concludes, coordinators will send the signed Conference Declaration to the European Commission and the European Parliament. Signatories will then be responsible for widely sharing the Declaration with policy- and decision-makers of their respective Member States.
On the final, third day of the conference, participants visited exemplary peatlands in Belgium and the Netherlands, gaining practical insight into restoration successes and challenges, as well as into the economic and environmental benefits of paludiculture. CEEweb’s Policy Officer participated in a trip to the Dommel Valley of the Netherlands, where participants visited unique quaking bogs and Molinia grasslands.
In the second part of the field trip, attendees were hosted by a knowledgeable and innovative landowner of a paludiculture pilot site, where cattail is grown with the harvested biomass being used for various applications as construction and insulation material. Water purification and biodiversity are also regularly monitored on the site.
The Power to the Peatlands conference provided a unique platform to support and inspire better research, policies and more impactful action for European peatlands through the development and sharing of knowledge. It is evident that in recent years, significant progress has been made in the effective conservation and restoration of peatlands, but it is also clear that these cannot be tackled in isolation.