A major project involving the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) will promote effective peatland and river restoration across Europe, to help tackle the biodiversity and climate crises.

The EU-funded £18m MERLIN project seeks to restore the functions of freshwater and peatland ecosystems and ensure a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Funding will go to 17 areas in Europe, from Scotland to Israel, where streams, rivers and peatlands are being restored to enhance biodiversity and resilience to climate change, enabling these schemes to be expanded, monitored and evaluated.

A multinational research team, including scientists at UKCEH, will evaluate how effectively the restoration work delivers improvements for biodiversity and carbon storage. It will provide a blueprint for future projects, sharing examples of good practice and developing financing models, in order to encourage nature-based solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss to be widely adopted across Europe.

UKCEH freshwater biogeochemist Dr Amy Pickard says: “Ecological restoration should be seen as an investment in our natural capital on which communities and business depend, such as restoring river floodplains to reduce downstream flood risks in our towns and cities or storing carbon in peatlands to offset society’s emissions. At UKCEH we aim to evaluate the success of these goals.”

Around £1 million of the award will go towards a scheme in the River Forth catchment area in central Scotland. Over the next four years, NatureScot, UKCEH, the James Hutton Institute and the University of Stirling will work in partnership to restore several peat bogs and their vital carbon stores. The scheme will also restore connections between the Allan Water and its floodplain, to contribute to natural flood management and the restoration of valuable wetland habitats.

Dr Iain Sime of NatureScot explains the scheme will provide important lessons on valuable solutions in time to meet Scotland’s targets to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions and improve biodiversity.

“As all eyes turn towards the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, this funding has never been so timely,” he says. “We know that nature and climate change are intrinsically linked – and that we need to tackle them both together, or we tackle neither. If we are to achieve net zero in Scotland by 2045, we have to focus on solutions based in nature.”

In addition to Scotland, restoration schemes are taking place in Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Finland, Israel, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Germany, Austria and Hungary. The MERLIN project, coordinated by the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, has more than 40 partners across Europe, including universities, research institutes, nature conservation organisations, businesses and government agencies. 

For more information, see the MERLIN project website.