The natural state of mires in Finland has deteriorated as a result of large-scale drainage, the consequent overgrowth of open mires and the isolation of pristine mires. Large-scale drainage has also significantly increased environmental loading (i.e. the leaching of nutrients, suspended solids and organic matter from peatlands to downstream watercourses) and widely weakened the state of these water bodies. Northern peatlands, the target ecosystem, play an important role in the global carbon cycle. In their pristine state, mires sequester large amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), and peatlands have been major global carbon stores for millennia. Peatlands are also natural sources of another greenhouse gas (GHG), atmospheric methane (CH4). Appropriate peatland use can protect the carbon store, and suitable reuse options can decrease the GHG emissions and create conditions for carbon sequestration and peat formation in drained and degraded peatlands. Thus, there is a need to find solutions for the management of peatlands to minimise the emissions of GHG. Without proper knowledge, landowners or policymakers may carry out actions which conflict with the objectives of water protection and conservation of natural habitats, wild fauna and flora. The challenge is to develop mechanisms that can balance the conflicting demands on the use of peatlands and to ensure their sustainable use.
The main objective of the LIFEPeatLandUse project was to quantify and evaluate ecosystem services in order to assist land-use planners and policymakers in making ecologically, economically and socio-culturally sustainable land-use decisions. The aim was to develop and demonstrate a decision-support system, where ecological and economic data is aggregated to numerically optimise cost-efficient land-use options for the reuse of low-productive drained peatlands in Finland, so that benefits from ecosystem services are safeguarded. The decision-support system should provide an innovative, quantitative approach to increase the sustainability of peatland and reduce conflicts concerning its use.
LIFEPeatLandUse developed and demonstrated a decision-support system to quantify and value ecosystem services and optimise ecologically, economically and socio-culturally sustainable land use for peatlands. The project beneficiaries enhanced general awareness of peatlands, and reduced conflicts and promoted cooperation among relevant stakeholders concerning the use of peatlands. The project team developed models that illustrated the advantages and disadvantages of different re-use options for peatlands, and presented concrete area calculations that took into account various environmental constraints and financial targets. Factors such as biodiversity, environmental loading to water courses, climate impact and economic targets are often in trade-off, at least when taking a short-time perspective. Choosing the best re-use options requires compromises and case-by-case reviews. Short-term effects of re-use options on ecosystem services may differ significantly from long-term effects. The projects work showed how time horizons should be taken into account in decision-making processes.
Models produced in the project enable optimum land use for low-productive peatlands, taking into account the objectives and boundary conditions of different strategies. The calculations can be made from the local level up to the national level. The tools and approaches developed in the project ensure that the further use of peatlands can be planned in a sustainable way. LIFEPeatLandUse has therefore provided and disseminated invaluable new information, which is influencing the use of natural resources and restoration policy, and is raising interest among customers to tailor models for specific land use purposes.
The EU has recognised the importance of peatlands in maintaining biodiversity, in modifying environmental loading, and in contributing to the global greenhouse gas (GHG) balance. In the project, biodiversity, environmental loading, GHG balance, timber and peat were consideredas core ecosystem services of peatlands. By promoting the sustainable use of peatlands, the project contributes to meeting the goals of a range of EU policy, including the Habitats Directive, Biodiversity Strategy 2020, Water Framework Directive, and Climate and Energy package 2020. At a national level, Finland has set the course for a low-carbon and resource-efficient society. A key role in reaching this goal is played by the sustainable bioeconomy. In the light of the Finnish Bioeconomy Strategy, there is pressure to increase forest felling to compensate for decreased use of fossil energy sources. The projects results suggest that tree biomass harvesting could provide income and simultaneously enhance the recovery of peatland biodiversity towards that of undrained peatlands.
The projects innovative predictive modelling approach, multi-objective optimisation approach, and its generic decision-support tool (YODA) can be replicated, transferred, and applied to land use planning elsewhere, including other ecosystems, regions or countries. Demonstrations of GIS-based mapping were also shown to be an efficient means to visualise the impacts of peatland re-use options on ecosystem services to stakeholders, the general public and international audiences. The project employed and educated students and young professionals to become experts in the modelling of ecosystem services and in land use planning. With the help of their increased experience they have improved possibilities to be employed by organisations working in the fields of monitoring, planning and decision making. The high knowledge level of the young professionals will therefore be of benefit to sustainable land use planning in the future. Moreover, socio-economic benefits may derive as a result of the LIFEPeatLandUse project increasing cooperation and trust between different action groups and stakeholders, such as forestry organisations, peat mining companies, nature conservationists and researchers.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).