Paludiculture – the future of farming on peat soils?

On 27 August 2022, the Government announced a new £5m fund to promote the use of peatlands for sustainable farming  – the Paludiculture Exploration Fund (PEF), which seeks to unlock barriers to making commercial paludiculture a reality.

Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment, helping to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy – wrote a blog post in September 20222, exploreing paludiculture in more depth: what it is, potential uses for paludicultural crops, and the current state of the market. 

Paludiculture, or farming on rewetted peat, is a system of agriculture for the profitable production of wetland crops under conditions that support the competitive advantage of these crops. In the context of lowland peat soils it is most usually achieved through raising of the water table to achieve wetland conditions.

Paludiculture offers a potential solution for maintaining the profitable use of lowland peatland whilst significantly reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their current (dryland) agricultural use. In 2020, emissions from drained agricultural peatlands in England were estimated at 8.5 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents. This is around 3% of England’s emissions.

While the term “paludiculture” is a recent one, its practice in England goes back generations. In wetlands such as the Norfolk Broads, there are deep traditions of managing and harvesting reed to provide thatch for houses. However, did you know that we are currently importing 95% of the thatching reed we use?

Farmed Sphagnum has the potential to replace peat in growing media but is also being explored for biomedical uses and as a source of industrial chemicals.