Peatlands cover less than 3 per cent of the Earth’s surface but contain about one third of global soil carbon. In Indonesia, peatland ecosystems store up to 69 Gt of soil carbon in the form of peat soils. For this reason, Indonesian peatlands can play a critical role in mitigating climate change by reducing GHG emissions from degraded peatlands. The restoration of peatlands requires four elements: rewetting, revegetation, revitalization of wetland livelihoods, and reduction in the use of fire for landscape management.

peatland Rewetting

Rewetting prevents the oxidation of peat, and reduces the likelihood of unwanted peat fires. When restoring a drained peatland, rewetting is carried out by blocking canals to raise the level of the water table across the peat dome back to their naturally high, swamp conditions. As a peat dome is a single hydrological unit through which tremendous volumes of water can circulate, the draining of any part of a peatland will negatively impact water availability in surrounding peatland areas. Thus, rewetting programs must give consideration to the resultant changes in water flow that will occur across large areas, as well as the impact this may have on local land use and livelihoods. Furthermore, at the site-level, the approach taken to rewetting may vary according to the land use. Canal blocking often takes place in drained peatlands located within cultivation zones; whereas permanent back filling is a better approach in drained peatland that is located within protected forest.

peatland Revegetation

Revegetation, as well as rewetting, decreases the risk of fires in degraded peatland areas. A closed forest canopy provides a humid, cool microclimate for the peat, and the tree roots help keep the peat aerated and able to store water. Revegetation approaches depend on the level of degradation of the original peat swamp forest. A severely degraded, multiple burned landscape may show little sign of natural regeneration and may therefore require direct planting in addition to rewetting in order to recover. However, locations that have a lower burn history, and are still near the state of fragmented forest, may still have sufficient seed dispersal and seedling growth to regenerate naturally, requiring just rewetting and low-intervention methods such as weeding. In all cases, revegetation efforts should only take place where fire prevention is active and successful. Revegetation of settled peatland areas should focus on growing and planting peat swamp species that can provide important economic benefits for nearby communities, such as tree species that produce fruits, nuts, latex or timber. All active planting should only include native species adapted to living on peatlands.

Revitalization strategies require peat-friendly livelihoods to be defined and developed through consultation with local communities. These future sustainable livelihoods must be economically and technically feasible for rewetted peat soils, as the key message from research worldwide is that peatland should not be drained. Draining peatlands for agricultural purposes inevitably leads to the degradation and decomposition of the peat as well as an increase in fire frequency. In addition to increased greenhouse gas emissions, peatland drainage leads to land subsidence and the possibility of permanent flooding and saltwater intrusion. By contrast, agriculture and agroforestry that is suited to rewetted conditions can maintain the overall integrity of a peat body, sustain ecosystem services and facilitate carbon accumulation.

peatland Revitalization