This project investigates ways to overcome financial barriers for paludiculture by combining the traditional farm economics with the benefits of in-field biochar integration. If paludiculture is more financially viable for farmers and its adoption increases, this can help mitigate climate change.

This project led by UKCEH, and funded by a grant from Natural England, is researching and demonstrating cost-effective and practical methods of applying biochar under paludiculture conditions.

What is paludiculture? And what is biochar?

Paludiculture is a sustainable land use system that involves the cultivation of wetland plants on peatlands. This system can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, restore degraded peatlands, and provide economic benefits to local communities.

Biochar is a charcoal-like substance produced by the pyrolysis of biomass, such as agricultural waste or forestry residue. It has a high carbon content and is largely resistant to decomposition, making it an ideal tool for long-term carbon storage.

Icon of plant growing in water

Project objectives

  1. Identifying application methods that can be integrated with minimal investment
  2. Identifying the most cost-effective biochar that can enhance revenues from C financing further
  3. Maximizing C finance and product market revenues by establishing the maximum levels for biochar amendments, either in a single or in successive application, assessing the potential for biochar to suppress methane emissions, and any agronomic benefits.

Lead researcher Dr Jenny Rhymes says

Dr Jenny Rhymes, the UKCEH greenhouse gas flux scientist who is leading this research, says: “There is a range of produce that can be grown in waterlogged peat soils, including celery for food, reeds for thatching and willow for bioenergy. However wet farming is seen as less profitable than growing traditional crops. If biochar can be integrated into paludiculture, then carbon finance is a potential additional income stream for farmers. Our project aims to identify biochar management practices specific to paludiculture, that maximise the ability of peat soils to remove and store carbon."

Why do this?

Peat soils, which are huge carbon stores, are drying out following centuries of drainage for agriculture. This is causing the organic matter to decompose and release carbon into the atmosphere. In 2021 cropland on peat was estimated to emit around 5,600 kt CO2-e yr-1, which is a third of the total GHG emissions from all UK peat soils and over 1% of UK GHG emissions from all sources.

Although paludiculture offers a solution to reduce emissions from cultivated peat, the type of crops that can be grown on wet soils are not as profitable as highly productive drained farming systems. So many farmers are unable or reluctant to adopt wet farming.

If cost-effective ways of applying biochar to soils can be established and ongoing UK trials can quantify the carbon storage capacity, then this would enable farmers to gain an additional source of income from carbon financing. This would involve the sale of the carbon benefits from these practices as credits to companies who wish to offset their CO2 emissions.

Links to other work

This UKCEH biochar project is being funded as part of a large-scale investment in peatland restoration announced by the UK Government. Some 12 projects are being funded by Natural England’s £5 million Paludiculture Exploration Fund to support the reduction of barriers to developing commercially viable paludiculture on lowland peat soils. There is also £7.5 million of new Government funding for innovative water management projects at lowland peat sites to help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Meanwhile, an independent taskforce appointed by the Government has published a report making 14 recommendations including new investment in wet farming on peat soils, and in water storage, management and control, as well as the creation of viable private financing initiatives . The taskforce comprised a range of experts including Professor Chris Evans, a biogeochemist at UKCEH.

The work will also build on separate, ongoing national trials by UKCEH and partners of growing crops in waterlogged soils and the use of biochar.

Project Lead
Team Lead