Peatland Carbon

Peatland restored under the Peatland Code works in a similar way to woodland under the Woodland Carbon Code. Projects have a set of standards and procedures which assure carbon buyers that their carbon units have a verified status, providing confidence in the market. Whilst still at an early stage (the first Peatland Code validation was awarded in 2018), the market value, supply and demand is expected to surge as the Government legislates for carbon neutrality across the country. 

What is the Peatland Carbon Code? 

Like most systems for generating tradeable carbon credits, the Peatland Carbon Code aims to measure how certain actions remove carbon from the atmosphere and ensure this removal is permanent. This carbon is then “owned” by the landowner in the form of a credit, who can then use it to offset their own emissions or sell it to someone else.  

When dealing with a woodland, the principle behind this is relatively simple (whatever we might say about the Woodland Carbon Code itself!) Trees are planted, they remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it within themselves as they grow, and the carbon stays within the trees for at least as long as they remain standing. How much carbon they remove, and so how many credits are received, is broadly based on how fast the trees grow.  

However, peatland is a long-term carbon store, but it does not grow, or at least not very quickly. Therefore, the Peatland Code relates to peatland its creators consider to be in poor condition. Such peatland, says the Code, will constantly release carbon stored back to the atmosphere until it is improved. It is this improvement that generates credits. The Code measures peatland carbon based on how much would have been released over a period of time had the peatland not been improved, compared with how much, if any, will be released after the improvements are complete. This determines the number of credits received.  

“Improvement” here usually means rewetting dry areas and re-establishing permanent green cover over bare patches. The Code is flexible about how this is done, provided that basic requirements are met such as not breaching planning regulation and not already being a legal requirement. This means a great variety of different activities can and have been conducted under the Code, ranging from simply blocking drains and changing grazing regimes to full scale “rewilding” projects.  

What is the process behind the Peatland Carbon Code? 

The basic administrative process between the Peatland Carbon Code will be familiar to anyone who has worked with woodland carbon, but there are some important differences  

The first step is to establish whether the restoration project is eligible under the code. This means checking to see if the peat is in a sufficiently damaged condition to earn carbon credits from its improvement. The site and works must also meet eligibility criteria. For example, at least 15% of the project’s funding must come from the carbon, and the peat must have a depth of at least 50cm.  

The project can then be registered on the IHS Markit carbon registry, which is a relatively simple step requiring only basic information about the work, such as the location.  

After this, a field survey must be completed and a number of documents prepared, describing the site in detail, the nature of the works and the carbon they will sequester. This information is send to a “validator” (currently the only available validator is Organic Farmers and Growers). If the validator finds the documentation compliant, they will formally validate the project and work can begin. The project will also be issued with “pending issuance units” a kind of future representing the carbon the project will sequester throughout its life. These can be sold.  

The work on the ground will then begin and, once completed, the project can be validated. 

Five years after the project was validated, and then every ten years thereafter, the validator must revisit the site to ensure all is in order. This process is called “verification” For every successful verification, some pending issuance units will be converted to “peatland carbon units” which can be used in carbon accounting calculations by the landowner or buyers. This process will continue for the duration of the peatland code agreement.  

Differences from woodland carbon 

The key difference between the peatland and woodland carbon systems is flexibility. Sequestering carbon by woodland creation specifically requires trees to be planted and managed in an FCC compliant fashion, which will usually remove the land from agricultural production. However, there are many different kinds of works which can sequester carbon from peatlands, which may avoid taking the land entirely out of production.  

The counterpoint to this is it means a more involved application process. It is broadly accepted that planting trees removes carbon, but a case may need to be made under the Peatland Code about why the specific proposed works will have the desired effects. This may mean a longer application process.  

This also means that the “self assessment” verifications available under the woodland carbon code are not available in relation to peatland.   

What we can do for you: 

Restoring Peatland:  

  • Should you wish to acquire a peatland to restore we can help with the sourcing and acquisition process. We act as a purchaser’s agent, finding on- and off-market sites This includes initial desktop and site surveys carried out by our team including our ecologists. We have a register of sites available and clients looking to buy. 
  • We can manage the verifying and validation of carbon units sequestered by the peatland.  

Selling Carbon Units  

  • We have a peatland carbon register and can market peatland carbon units on your behalf. 

Purchasing Carbon Credits 

  • We are registered as an official trader of peatland carbon with IHS Markit. 
  • For our guide on purchasing Woodland/Peatland/Soil Carbon units see here.
Mark Burton

Mark Burton
BA(Hons). MSc. MRICS.