Peatlands provide a range of ecosystem services but are sensitive to changes in climate and land-use, and many peatlands globally are degraded. We analyse a large-scale, unique and diverse dataset, collected over 15 years, as part of major landscape scale blanket peat restoration projects in the south Pennines, UK. Trajectories of ecosystem change after restoration were assessed by measuring key ecosystem responses including: vegetation cover and indicator species; water table, runoff, and water quality.
The reactions of these metrics vary in their behaviour, both in the timing of first response and the rate of change towards a new stable state. Re-establishment of vegetation is a key driver in rapidly reducing particulate carbon loss and attenuating stormflow, while over time biodiversity is improved by the return of native species, and water tables gradually rise. The phasing of these ecosystem service responses indicates that there are different characteristic timescales for the improvement of peatland functions, driven by both surface and subsurface processes. The rapid establishment of vegetation cover over two years, and its importance in improving a broad range of functions, signify it as a key milestone for reporting project success within typical funding timeframes.
This study supports the adoption of Lime-Fertiliser-Seed-Mulch restoration on eroding blanket peatlands globally. The trajectories developed are important to help guide practitioners of ecological restoration. Better understanding of the dynamics underpinning the slower response times of subsurface hydrological and biogeochemical function is identified as a key knowledge gap. An understanding of the limits of ecosystems recovery is important when target setting for restoration projects, especially where attaining pristine conditions is unachievable.