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Power to the Peatlands conference

Increasing the impact of peatland conferences and events

(opens in a new window)Power to the Peatlands European Peatlands Conference, Antwerp, 19-21 September 2023

This landmark conference celebrated the end of the Interreg North-West Europe project (opens in a new window)Care-Peat and what delegates hope will be the continuation and beginning of new cooperative peatland projects throughout Europe. The conference was huge in scope with many parallel sessions, workshops, a lively poster session, and networking events. The conference confirmed there is much to be excited and hopeful about for the future of peatlands in Europe. But so much remains to be done.


What problem would you tackle first regarding peatlands?

We have summarised a snapshot of the conference in this Peat Hub Ireland conference overview [pdf] with some reflections below on how future peatland conferences and events can maximise their effectiveness in reaching beyond academia to policymakers and all interested groups. One way this was done at the Power to the Peatlands conference was hosting the Paludifair, an outdoor space for businesses and innovators to exhibit new products made from materials grown in wetlands. This got us thinking about other sectors that were unrepresented at the conference (although invited we were assured). A question about how many policymakers, farmers and landowners were in attendance drew just two or three responses from the audience. What sort of spaces do we need to create at academic conferences to make them more welcoming for policymakers and other communities of interest involved with peatlands? What sort of events, talks and workshops would be of interest to them?

Fabrics, insulation and substrates made from wetland plants.(opens in a new window)Paludiculture has the potential to minimise carbon emissions and grow the materials of the future. Photos: Kate Flood

The co-creation of a (opens in a new window)Power to the Peatlands conference declaration was a valuable outcome of the conference and the Peat Hub Ireland project is a signatory on the declaration. The declaration has been sent to European policymakers to highlight the need for protection of undrained peatlands, rewetting of drained peatlands and restoration of degraded peatlands. This is essential to reach global and EU goals in climate, soil health, water and biodiversity policy. However, despite having an explicit policy focus, many peatland conferences and events fail to produce policy briefs or even promote papers that are accessible to those working in policy, as outlined in this (opens in a new window)LSE blogpost on how to increase the policy impact of academic conferences. Some suggestions provided to increase impact include:

  1. Tailor invitations and detail how the conference or event will be useful for the policy maker and their department by providing them with opportunities to network with experts.
  2. Include policy-focused panels and sessions and encourage researchers to tailor their presentations (and posters) to these audiences.
  3. Upskill peatland researchers by including sessions on, for example: how to have policy impact; how to write a policy brief; how to communicate your research. (opens in a new window)The Global Peatlands Initiative Training Page provides links to previous training for peatland researchers which is available to view on their website.
  4. Produce a policy summary of relevant and important points from the conference and send to chosen policymakers. Keep messages direct and easy to understand: “We won’t reach our climate targets without peatlands”.

Policymakers are just one of the sectors that require better engagement and outreach.  We need to get farmers and landowners on board, we need consumers to apply pressure, we need to influence what is communicated in the media, and we need to engage with businesses. Crucially, we also need to recognise and support the work that is already happening in communities around Ireland, many of whom are leading the way in peatland conservation, education and innovation. The potential is huge as has been evidenced by groups like the (opens in a new window)Abbyeleix Bog Project and national networks for sharing knowledge and best practice the (opens in a new window)Community Wetlands Forum.

Speaking on the last day of the conference, Deputy Director General for the Environment EU, Patrick Child told us that peatlands are now high on the political agenda. There is a window of opportunity to ensure their protection into the future. In order to take advantage of this window before it closes, academics need to ensure they are part of a paradigm shift towards more (opens in a new window)engaged forms of research. This means using our influence to create change in the institutions we work in, especially if the existing structures and ‘governing ethos’ fail to support this type of engaged work to take place. More participatory and societally impactful research for peatlands and people is crucial for transformative change and to forge partnerships and pathways towards sustainable management of peatlands. This requires Higher Education Institutions and research funders to better resource impact and recognise the value of collaborative projects. Enabling researchers to learn from and integrate (opens in a new window)different forms of knowledge and values builds shared understanding and produces more inclusive, transparent and rigorous research in the long run.

This project is funded under the EPA Research Programme 2021-2030 and co-funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The EPA Research Programme is a Government of Ireland initiative funded by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

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