Who is Peat?

Who is Peat? Or rather, what is Peat? Peat is a build up of organic matter (like leaves and other natural debris) that accumulates in wet, acidic conditions and looks similar to soil! Peat is a critical part of bogs and fens, contributing to the poorly draining soils of wetlands. Water in wetlands containing peat can be up to 300 years old because it drains so slowly! Peatland covers approximately 3% of the Earth's overall land cover and peatlands are also critical habitat to many species! Peat is a carbon-storing powerhouse and is an invaluable part of our natural world. Peat is harvested across the globe as a fuel source and to help support gardens. 

How is peat made? Well, it is made up of a bunch of dead materials like leaves and other partially decomposed natural materials. But because of the chemistry surrounding peatlands, the dead material doesn't decompose like normal. Instead, it is pretty well preserved and can preserve things too! Have you ever heard of a bog body? They're not for the faint of heart! 

Peatlands are places where debris collects over hundreds to thousands of years, and because of the acidic soil conditions and limited oxygen, things aren't broken down at the same rate as other places. In Alberta, peat only grows 3-7cm per 100 years! Around the globe, it also take a very long time to create peat. As such, peat is a limited resource. That's why there are global campaigns to help protect peatlands from being harvested! 


Image courtesy of Wetland Knowledge Exchange, October 2023 Newsletter.

Peatlands are a critical part of our world! As mentioned above, peatlands are carbon sinks. They store more carbon than the world's forests combined which is 26% of the Earth's land. Draining peatlands is contributing to 4% of man-made CO2 emissions annually. Intact peatlands contribute to biodiversity, store carbon to mitigate issues surrounding climate, and help make landscapes more resilient to flood events. Legislation in Alberta promotes a Wetland Replacement Program, but to replace these 6000-12,000 year old wetlands is impossible. Biodiversity is lost and can only be rebuilt with time. 

This is why it is so important to safeguard our peatlands in Alberta, in Canada and Globally! Without these critical peatlands, the world is worse-off. Many conservation initiatives exist across Europe, which is where the majority of peatland degradation and draining is taking place. But it is just as important to keep these critical wetlands in place across Canada. Let's do our part to protect biodiversity and our natural infrastructure. Watershed management is a shared responsibility. Let's work together to protect our lakes, rivers and wetlands for generations to come. 

By: Kate Lovsin