On 7th March B.C., during those heady days of frollocking in the sun/rain-shine, wholesome hugs and re-usable coffee cups, the University of St Andrews held a Science Discovery Day. I was unable to attend unfortunately, but put together a poster for my research group – the Tropical Wetlands Consortium – to pop up as part of their peat paraphernalia. Below are two copies of the poster: (a) the poster before our seven year old consultant checked it for readability by the society members he was representing; (b) the revised version, edited in response to his valuable feedback. There are four major differences. Can you spot them (click on images to enlarge)? And understand why the items in (a) weren’t accessible to our next generation of budding scientists? The feedback was eye-opening for me, and I shall now be using this consultant regularly to accessibility-check my primary school-level outreach work.
Earlier this year, as a result of making friends at a conference years ago, I had the privilege of working with a bunch of the world’s most knowledgeable peat-ple on this article for the FAO, published to coincide with COP25: Peatlands: the challenge of mapping the world’s invisible stores of carbon and water. (Page 46-57 in the linked document).
Our main message, watered-down, is that mapping peatlands is no easy task and there is still much work to do on the ground, and across the globe….but we are fast working on these knowledge gaps and know enough about the important role that peatlands play in mitigating climatic change that we would be fools to let them squander.
Back last year, on a heady day in late August (26/08/17, around 16:04:07), in the depths of mid-Wales, under the hot mid-afternoon sun (yes, sun and heat in Wales), I became the 2017 Female World Champion of Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling.
Below is footage of my world-leading performance. (And might answer a few questions for the reader.)
It’s not as easy as I make it look.
And less than 24 hours later, having barely recovered from the previous day’s exertions, I competed, as an orangutan, in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships. I was aiming to raise awareness of the plight of the poster people of tropical peatlands.
Despite my (best?) efforts, I wasn’t the fastest female/primate in the bog, but I did come second in the Fancy Dress competition (more time having been spent on my costume than any form of snorkel training); the judges enjoyed my “tropical bird” costume….
I am currently in training (starting from soon) for this year’s competition, and more carefully considering my choice of attire. If you are free in late August, I would strongly recommend you get involved. This year also sees the return of the biennial World Alternative Games. There is a competition for everyone, with options ranging from pooh sticks, to gravy wrestling, and finger jousting. I challenge you to find something you too can become a World Champion in.
There are few weekends in my rich life that have been as silly, as laughter-filled, boggy and friendly as this one I had the privilege to spend with the fantastic community of Llanwrtyd Wells.
See you there!
Today is a day to celebrate and spread the word about our world’s wonderful wetlands.
On this day 46 years ago, the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar. Since then, the 2nd February has marked the signing of this Ramsar Convention: “an international treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources”.
Wetlands are increasingly acknowledged for their importance in controlling the quality and quantity of water flowing across landscapes, as reflected by the theme of this year’s World Wetlands Day: Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction. They are also important for biodiversity conservation, for filtering pollutants from water supplies and of course our magnificent peatlands are critical for sequestering and storing atmospheric carbon (in their intact form).
Perhaps it’s time for a World Peatlands Day?
To celebrate the day and how peatland management has changed in the UK and Ireland over the last few generations, from predominantly extraction to conservation, here is a poem by Seamus Heaney:
Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging. The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep To scatter new potatoes that we picked, Loving their cool hardness in our hands. By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man. My grandfather cut more turf in a day Than any other man on Toner’s bog. Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up To drink it, then fell to right away Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods Over his shoulder, going down and down For the good turf. Digging. The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge Through living roots awaken in my head. But I’ve no spade to follow men like them. Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.
Though I don’t advocate digging drains in peatlands; in fact it’s pretty much the worst thing you can do to peat (as I’ve mentioned before and will again), if one was to have a drain in one’s peatland already, why not use it to host the World Bog Snorkelling Championships. I might start training for next year’s event.
The Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA) programme of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has a particularly special branch: the organic soils and peatlands climate change mitigation initiative. “Launched by FAO, the MICCA Programme and Wetlands International, (it) is an informal network of organizations and people committed to reducing emissions from peatlands and safeguarding the other vital ecosystem services that peatlands provide.” They have produced all sorts of reports, e.g. on sustainable peatland management, presentations from webinars, case studies and infographics, e.g. this decision support tree, for use by any interested communities. Members of the initiative also have a keen presence at important gatherings of peatland scientists and practitioners, such as the IUCN UK Peatland Programme (near-)Annual Conference. Given the challenges of being a small cog in the big UN-monster, the group seems to be doing its best to support sustainable peatland management across the world.
If you’d like to join MICCA’s peatland community, set up to facilitate the exchange of experience and knowledge amongst the wider population of peat lovers, sign up here.
And I think their latest infographic should be made into an elongated tea towel, to educate the everyday dryer-upper of the threats to peat.
I stumbled/googled upon this a few days ago, and thought it was too good to go unreported. Led by the rap artist, Ed Holden, a bunch of superstars from Pentrefoelas and Ysbyty Ifan Schools (had to copy and paste those names) have joined forces to show us all how important looking after our peatlands is. It is half in Welsh. And it is wholly inspired.
Of a slightly different tone, The Importance of Scotland’s Peatlands also hit the big (YouTube) screen at the start of the month. Another informative watch if you feel your knowledge of peat is wanting.
And whilst I’m posting about creative projects that can spread information and inspire interest for these precious ecosystems, here is the winner of the World Wetlands Day Poetry Prize: In My Other Life, by Virginia Creer.