Ordnance Survey, Durham University And Natural England Join Forces To Create An Accurate Humberhead Peat Map

Ordnance Survey lead on assessing capacity to find nature-based solutions
Simon Atherton
June 14, 2023

Ordnance Survey (OS) is working with Natural England and Durham University to help produce a detailed carbon model for Thorne and Hatfield Moors, part of Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve in South Yorkshire.

The project will support the development of an accurate and detailed peat map of Thorne and Hatfield Moors, which can be used to monitor peatland health and help inform and target future restoration activity on the site.

OS’s technical experts have been using geospatial data and Earth observation (EO) data to analyse the current condition of peatland. This baselining technique could subsequently be rolled out nationwide to facilitate access to investment for large-scale peatland restoration projects from carbon markets.

Humberhead Peatlands From Above
Humberhead Peatlands From Above

Using OS data, experts will accurately record different types of vegetation species, provide reporting on vegetation cover and health, monitor greenhouse gas emission types and establish the water table. The data will be presented via the OS VeriEarth platform, supported by a dashboard which will enable Natural England to assess site condition and monitor changes across a large site area with a high degree of accuracy. This enables a detailed carbon baseline to be established and accurately monitored which, could enable effective verification for a highly sophisticated approach for carbon accounting.

The project team want to demonstrate how this technology can be used to support a highly accurate assessment of the beneficial impact of peatland restoration on carbon emissions across a large site, and to assess the potential for validation of restoration work under the Peatland Code. The aim is both to meet the verification and monitoring requirements of the Code and to satisfy those carbon investors who are seeking the highest standards of project assurance.    

Peatlands are the largest natural carbon store on land, storing more carbon than is currently in the global atmosphere and have a net cooling effect on climate change. Natural England aims to prevent further loss of peatland habitats, re-wetting peatland areas and returning them to their natural state which could make a significant contribution to achieving targets on reducing carbon emissions and reaching Net Zero by 2050, as well as improving water quality, reduce flood risk and support biodiversity.

Donna Lyndsay, who is Sustainability Lead for Ordnance Survey told me: “We need to protect our peatlands so they are healthy and rich in wildlife. Using geospatial data and our technical expertise we can provide valuable insights and evidence to ensure we are preserving carbon sinks and optimising site management.

“This type of project highlights the need for viable solutions to combat the risks of climate change and demonstrate how accurate geospatial data can provide credibility in nature-based restoration for investment, ensuring that organisations and landowners are effectively preserving and restoring our peatlands.”

Donna Lyndsay - Ordnance Survey Sustainability Lead
Donna Lyndsay - Ordnance Survey Sustainability Lead

Neil Pike, Manager in Natural England’s Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire team added; “Monitoring a site like Hatfield Moor presents some unique challenges, owing to its very large area and inaccessibility of parts of the site during wetter periods. The model has the potential to provide a means for Natural England to transform how we monitor site condition and we are interested in testing how the outputs from this model can enable us to target our restoration activities on Hatfield Moor for maximum benefit.”  

Professor Fred Worrall, peatlands expert, University of Durham“The capacity of peatlands to provide nature-based solutions to meeting our net zero targets is significant. In Humberhead Peatlands alone the capacity is enough for the whole of the City of Doncaster to become net zero for the next 30 years. To make these nature-based solutions possible we need ways to assess capacity, target the appropriate management, and assure that greenhouse gas savings have been made – the tools developed in this partnership enable that to happen”.  

The Humberhead Peatlands, located in South Yorkshire, are part of the last remnants of a large wetland that occupied the floodplain of the Humberhead Levels thousands of years ago.

The Humberhead Peatlands comprises Thorne, Hatfield, Goole, and Crowle Moors and are designated as National Nature Reserves. It represents the largest area of raised bog wilderness in lowland UK at 2,887 hectares in size.

Close to Goole, Thorne, Doncaster and Scunthorpe, this globally vital landscape is not only a unique lowland reserve, but provides important and opportunities for study and recreation.