Peatland restoration

The key management options both for cultivated and uncultivated peatlands are to:

  • Keep wet peatlands wet
  • Rewet or restore drained peatlands
  • Adapt management where peatlands cannot be rewetted

This page is about peatland restoration or rewetting. Peatland restoration can halt carbon dioxide emissions that are a result of peat drainage. It also halts soil subsidence, which can lead to severe soil subsidence and could over time result in high flooding risk in low lying areas. Peat restoration always remains the second approach after conservation as peatland restoration can be challenging, especially in the tropics. 

Revitalizing the peat accumulation process

Peatland drainage leads to subsidence and compaction of the peat. Consequently, the peat's hydraulic properties changes, which may decrease the peatland's capacities for water storage and regulation. Peatland drainage leads to oxidation of the peat layers that are no longer saturated with water. As a result, drained peatlands lose a few millimeters or up to several centrimeters of peat every year, depending on the climate. These losses are accelerated by the addition of lime, fertilizers, and sand or clay, as well as by water and wind erosion and by (subsurface) peat fires. Restoration of peatlands can halt this process of oxidation. The restoration of a peatland aims at revitalizing the peat accumulation process. 

How does it work?

Restoration must always includ rewetting. It involves the partial or entire reversal of formel anthropogenic drainage by elevating the average annual water table. The aim is to achieve permanent water saturation of the entire peat body by raising the water table to close to or above the peat surface and by reducing the amplitude of water level fluctuations. Rewetting is achieved by reducing water losses from the site by decreasing surface drainage, surface runoff, sub-surface seepage, groundwater extraction, and evapotranspiration. There is no universal strategy to rewet drained peatlands, as conditions differ widely. 

Our main criteria for peatland rewetting and restoration:

  • Rewet as quickly as possible.

    The effectiveness of peatland restoration depends strongly on the degree of degradation. The longer a peat body has been dissected by drainage channels, the more the newly originated mesorelief may frustrate full-scale rewetting and emissions reductions.
  • Reforest (in the tropics).

    They hydrology of natural (zero-emissions) peat swamp forests is maintained by the forest's above-ground root system and the related differences in surface elevation. Reforestation must be part of any restoration effort.
  • Ensure support of local communities at the earliest stage.

    Drainage infrastructure often provides local people with access to peatlands. By blocking canals, restoration may restrict this access. Consequently, local communities may oppose restoration efforts. For this reason, it is of crucial importance to consult locals and involve them actively in the planning, designing, and implementation of restoration work.
  • Stimulate community development.

    To enable communities to overcome dependence on unsustainable peatland use, rehabilitation projects, which may result in opportunity costs for local communities, should include community development as an integral component to offset these opportunity costs.

Our field projects

With local partners and communities, we restore drained peatlands in different parts of the world. Read about our rewetting and restoration projects in:

For more information: 

Marcel Silvius, Programme Head Climate-Smart Land Use