Paludiculture: More climate action with rewetted peatlands

Government should provide financial support to farmers practicing voluntary peatland protection

drainage channel through a peatlandClick to enlarge
Many peatlands have been drained for agricultural purposes
Source: Peter Eggermann /

Rewetting peatlands can do a great deal to protect the climate. Drained peatlands in Germany emit some 53 million tonnes of CO₂ equivalents every year, which is about 7.5 percent of all its GHG emissions. “We can only achieve our climate targets if we repurpose the use of our peatlands. We must make much more widespread use of paludiculture, which rewets peatlands at an increased rate and avoids GHG emissions,” said Dirk Messner, President of the German Environment Agency (UBA). This requires the water level in peatland to be high enough so that the carbon bound in the peat is not released as CO2 into the atmosphere. High water levels prevent the use of peatlands for traditional agricultural purposes; however, other paludicultures – reed, peat moss and alder – can be cultivated.

More than 92 percent of Germany’s peatlands have been drained, of which nearly three quarters are used for agriculture (farmland or pasture). Although they make up only 7 percent of agricultural land, they account for about 37 percent of all emissions from the agricultural sector. Rewetting these areas can significantly reduce emissions but the effort faces challenges. For one, there must be enough water available to keep soils wet enough. Buildings or roads which cross peatland soils can impair or prevent rewetting. In addition, the majority of peatlands are privately owned and are used for commercial purposes.

Rewetted land can no longer be used for potato, grain or maize cultivation nor is pastoral stockfarming possible on land which has a water level that is optimal for the climate. However, this does not jeopardise food security. Peatland soils account for only a small share of agricultural land (7%), whereas nearly three times the amount of cropland is currently used not to grow food but for the cultivation of biofuel crops such as maize and rape.

Rewetting is a major undertaking for owners and land managers, one that should be implemented voluntarily according to the German government's National Peatland Protection Strategy. Therefore, there is a need for incentives to rewet peatlands, especially those used for agricultural purposes. One such incentive can be the possibility to continue using rewetted areas in a way that is adapted to the increased water level. One such climate-friendly after-use is paludiculture, which is explicitly provided for in the Action Plan on Nature-based Solutions for Biodiversity and Climate and the National Peatland Protection Strategy.
Paludiculture cultivation restores peatland ecosystems. Unlike with renaturation, rewetted soils are suitable for commercial paludiculture. Financial support for paludiculture can therefore be an incentive for stakeholders to rewet agricultural areas. In paludiculture, reeds, reedmace and sedges can be cultivated and their biomass used to make insulation and other building materials. Black alder can be cultivated and used in forest management. Rewetted land is also suitable for water buffalo grazing.

A study by DUENE e.v. and UBA analysed the potential, constraints and costs of rewetting. It proposed solutions, highlighted training and education offers, and provided advice on how to establish supply chains for paludiculture products. It also highlighted financial incentive tools that can promote a switch to paludiculture. The study indicated that the current legal and funding framework requires great financial incentives to motivate stakeholders to voluntarily rewet peatlands used for agriculture.

Umweltbundesamt Hauptsitz

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau

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 paludiculture  Peatlands  climate action