Impact of gully erosion on carbon sequestration in blanket peatlands

Martin Evans, John Lindsay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over 50% of UK soil carbon is stored in peatland systems and 75% of these peatlands are upland blanket bog. The upland blanket bogs of the UK have suffered severe erosion over the last millennium so that they are widely dissected by gully systems. Gully erosion entails primary removal of particulate carbon from the peatland system but also has secondary effects in that it enhances drainage and lowers water tables, potentially enhancing decomposition of surface peats. This paper exploits recent high resolution mapping of the gully erosion on the Bleaklow Plateau in the southern Pennines and existing data on peat growth rates in the area to assess the impact of gully erosion on peatland carbon balance and the relative importance of primary and secondary impacts of gullying on carbon sequestration. The results indicate that gully erosion during the last millennium has shifted the Bleaklow Plateau from being a net sink of carbon (-20.3 gC m-2 yr-1) to a net source (29.4 gC m-2 yr-1). The relative importance of gullying impacts can be expressed as follows: particulate organic carbon (POC) flux > change in gully net ecosystem exchange ≫ loss of gully margin carbon sequestration. The implication of these findings is that the magnitude of the potentially reversible impacts of gully erosion (reduced carbon fixation due to vegetation loss and ongoing erosional loss of POC) far exceed the effects associated with irreversible morphological change (enhanced peat decomposition in gully margin locations). © Inter-Research 2010.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-41
Number of pages10
JournalClimate Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Blanket peat
  • Carbon balance
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Gully erosion


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