Edinburgh tech company wins government backing to turn UK peatlands carbon negative
The UK could offset London’s total emissions each year by restoring peatland
An ambitious project to save peatland using data from space has received UK government funding - which could lead to London’s carbon footprint being offset each year.
Edinburgh-based tech company Space Intelligence is using groundbreaking science to measure peatland in detail for the first time. By analysing the latest satellite data and combining these with field data, they plan to identify which areas can be restored cost-effectively, locking in carbon deposits and creating high quality jobs.
80% of the UK’s three million hectares of peatland is degraded and has released some or all of its carbon reserves into the atmosphere already. By restoring peatlands, they will once again become carbon sinks. Space Intelligence calculates that this could prevent up to 24 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions being released into the atmosphere annually. London’s current annual carbon output is approximately 27 megatonnes, due to drop to 24 megatonnes by 2026.
The project is a feasibility study for an international roll-out of the tech, which could see the Scottish company making a wider climate impact through the global restoration of peatlands.
The company’s chief scientific officer, Professor Ed Mitchard, is the University of Edinburgh’s youngest ever professor, at the age of 34. He said the project will create detailed maps to kick-start peatland restoration in Scotland and then the whole of the UK.
We believe useful data on peat is contained in the wealth of satellite data being collected every day, but is currently not used for this purpose
Peat soils contain around a third of the carbon locked up on the Earth’s surface, but take up less than 3% of land cover globally, so protecting and restoring them will have an outsized impact on the climate. If we do not protect and restore peatland, we have no hope of preventing dangerous climate change.
Dr Murray Collins, chief executive of Space Intelligence, explained that the company was working with NatureScot, the government body tasked with improving Scotland’s natural environments.
Peatland covers 10% of UK land but 80% of it is already degraded because of the impact of drainage ditches and agriculture. Surprisingly little is known about where the most damaged peatlands are - when they’re damaged they release their carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating our climate crisis.
The team is very excited to be developing this cutting edge project - we’re applying advanced satellite analysis to land management, and the result is a huge step forward in tackling the climate crisis. We are also inspired by the opportunity to take a leading role in ensuring a green recovery from Covid-19, creating high-quality jobs as part of the UK’s bounceback.
Space Intelligence won £60,000 from the Small Business Research Initiative. The project is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and delivered by Innovate UK.
Understanding peatland health and restoration opportunities will allow the government to allocate funds extremely efficiently in the race to achieve net zero carbon emissions. NatureScot will assist in the project by providing field data and ecological expertise to help interpret the findings. Innovate UK Executive Chair Dr Ian Campbell said
In these difficult times we have seen the best of British business innovation. The pandemic is not just a health emergency but one that impacts society and the economy
Space Intelligence’s peatland analysis project, along with every initiative Innovate UK has supported through this fund, is an important step forward in driving sustainable economic development. Each one is also helping to realise the ambitions of hard-working people.
Stuart MacQuarrie, deputy director business services and transformation at NatureScot said:
Last year the First Minister of the Scottish government, Nicola Sturgeon, declared a climate emergency. Since then NatureScot has been accelerating our response to the emergency by rapidly innovating to ensure our actions have quick and lasting effect to tackle the climate crises.
“Working with Space Intelligence to pair our expertise with new technologies, we have ambitious plans to target resources specifically to peatland most urgently in need of restoration. This partnership is one of a number of game changers we need to accelerate our actions to mitigate climate impacts.
Taking action to stem the water loss and then re-soaking the peat will mean these areas begin to draw in and store carbon once again, making a significant contribution to climate change mitigation, and creating many highly skilled green jobs for rural areas in the process.
If successful, the project’s second phase will be to set up ongoing mapping and monitoring of global peat reserves.
Ultimately there is a massive opportunity to sell our peatland restoration prioritisation and mapping services globally, enabling our company to grow while contributing significantly to combating climate change